Russia to target Europe if its hosts US nuclear missiles

Putin warned if Washington decides to deliver its intermediate-range in Europe, then Moscow would respond

Photo: EPA Russian President Vladimir Putin at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow would be forced to target any European country in case it agrees on hosting US nuclear missiles after Washington’s withdrawal from the decades-old arms control treaty. Speaking at a news conference after holding talks with Italian PM Giuseppe Conte in Moscow, Putin also stressed he wanted to discuss US plans to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with US President Donald Trump, when the two leaders meet in Paris on 11 November.

Germany was the first US ally to criticise the US decision on Monday, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urging Washington to consider the consequences both for Europe and for future disarmament efforts. In a statement, released later that day, the EU also asked Washington to reconsider its withdraw, stressing that "the world doesn’t need a new arms race.”

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also made a statement, saying that the treaty is "significant for international security and security in the sphere of nuclear arms, for the maintenance of strategic stability" and warning that a possible withdraw would be a very dangerous step that "will not only be comprehended by the international community, but will provoke serious condemnation."

US National Security Advisor John Bolton, however, told Putin on Tuesday that Washington would press ahead with plans to quit the pact despite objections from Russia and the other European countries.

When asked on Wednesday what Russia would do if Trump made good on his pledge to leave the treaty, Putin said: “Answering your question directly, can we respond - we can, and it will be very fast and very effective. If the United States does withdraw from the INF treaty, the main question is what they will do with these (intermediate-range) missiles that will once again appear. If they will deliver them to Europe, naturally our response will have to mirror this, and European countries that agree to host them, if things go that far, must understand that they are putting their own territory at risk of a possible counter-strike.”

Nevertheless, Putin said he did not understand why it was necessary to put Europe in such danger, adding it was a situation that Russia itself wanted to avoid if possible since it might cause the world to slip into an arms race. Especially since Washington's withdraw imperils the fate of another US-Russian arms control treaty - the new START pact - which governs strategic nuclear missile launchers and is due to expire in 2021. “If all this is dismantled, then nothing will be left when it comes to limiting the increase in arms,” said Putin. “And then the situation will be, in my view, extremely dangerous. All that will be left is an arms race.”

Signed by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (or INF) banned the US and Soviet Union from having "ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers," and required the destruction of the missiles, launchers and "associated support structures and support equipment." As a result, After the treaty's "entry-into-force" in 1988, the two countries eliminated 2,692 missiles.

For several years, however, US officials have accused Russia of violating the agreement. General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Congress in March 2017 that military officials "believe that the Russians have deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the spirit and intent" of the treaty. Before that the Obama administration had also claimed that Russia violated the INF treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile in 2014. 

And even though NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg blamed Russia for breaching the treaty, he seemed to disagree that the Washington's INF withdraw would lead to new deployments of US missiles in Europe. Instead, he stated that Russia has the option of deploying intermediate-range missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, a move that would put a swath of Europe in range.

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