US, NATO give Russia 60 days to comply with INF treaty

The ultimatum expires at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in February

Photo: EPA US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R), at the first day of Nato Foreign ministers council.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday warned that the US will suspend its obligations under the Cold-War era nuclear pact, dubbed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in the next 60 days, in case Russia doesn't come back into compliance. The 60-day grace period was granted by the US as a concession to European partners who wanted to give Moscow a last chance. 

"We either bury our head in the sand, or we take common sense action in response to Russia’s flagrant disregard of the express terms of the INF treaty," Pompeo said at a news conference at NATO headquarters.

“We’ve talked to the Russians a great deal,” the secretary of state added, citing at least 30 discussions over the course of five years. “We’re hopeful they’ll change course, but there’s been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so.”

He than continued saying that "if Russia admits its violations and fully and verifiably comes back into compliance, we will of course welcome that course of action.” 

In his speech Pompeo also pointed to a long list of alleged Russian transgressions around the globe, including in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, as well as election meddling, the attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in the United Kingdom and nonetheless -  the recent incident involving Russian warships firing at Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch strait.

The move marked the first time in which all 29 member countries of NATO found Russia in "material breach" of the arms-control pact, issuing their own full throated support of the US findings. 

"We call on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance," the statement from NATO member foreign ministers read following Tuesday’s meeting. "It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty."

In a separate announcement EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini also pleaded for the treaty to be saved, warning that Europe did not want to become a battlefield for global powers once again, as it had been during the Cold War. 

"The INF has guaranteed peace and security in European territory for 30 years now," Mogherini said as she arrived for talks with NATO foreign ministers. "It has to be fully implemented, so I hope that the time that is there to work on preserving the treaty and achieving its full implementation can be used wisely from all sides, and we will definitely try to make our part to make sure this happens."

The joint NATO and US position brings the US a step closer towards following through on threats to withdraw from the Cold War era arms control agreement, which prevents the US and Russia from possessing any land-based cruise missiles that can strike within a 500 to 5,500km - range. The deal was primarily designed to keep ground-based nuclear weapons out of Europe. In 2017, however, White House national security officials said Russia had deployed a cruise missile in violation of the treaty. Earlier, the Obama administration also accused the Russians of violating the pact by developing and testing a prohibited cruise missile. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has violated the treaty. In addition, Pompeo said Tuesday that Russia has been flight-testing the SSC-8 cruise missile since the mid-2000s, and have been testing it at ranges that exceed what the INF treaty permits.

"Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe," Pompeo said.

In response to the NATO and EU announcement, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, told Russian state news agency TASS that "Russia scrupulously abides by the provisions of the treaty, and the US side knows this."

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