The US President wants out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which he believes has been regularly broken by the Kremlin and also rendered irrelevant by China’s nuclear weapons programme. But NATO allies, led by Germany, have managed to persuade US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to give diplomacy one last chance before Washington pulls the plug on the historic accord. In return, NATO foreign ministers agreed to formally declare Russia in “material breach” of the INF treaty in a statement in support of the US.
Mr Pompeo warned Russia’s actions “greatly undermine America’s national security and that of our allies” and said Washington had raised the issue at least 30 times with Moscow in the last five years but had faced denials and counter-accusations.
He told a meeting in Brussels: “In the light of these facts, the United States declares Russia in material breach of the treaty and will suspend our obligations – effective in 60 days – unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there would now be an intense diplomatic push to try to convince Russia to give up what Mr Pompeo described as “multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles”.
The US Secretary of State told foreign ministers: “Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe.”
He has indicated Washington will be forced to restore the military balance in Europe after that period but declined to give more details, saying only that tests and deployments of new missiles were on hold until then.
Germany, the Netherlands and Belgian are concerned about the deployment of US missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s.
The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the US Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
US Cruise and Pershing missiles deployed in Britain and Germany were removed as a result of the treaty while the Soviet Union pulled back its SS-20s out of European range.
Russia flatly denies undertaking any new development of land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting European cities at short notice.
But Moscow warned the return of US warheads to Europe will be met with an “effective response”.
Mr Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said: “If the Americans ultimately withdraw from that treaty, there is a high risk, although now they deny it, that they will deploy these missiles in Europe.
“It means NATO’s expansion towards our borders. If missiles are deployed in Europe, Russia will be forces to take steps to ensure parity.
“That means European territories will be in the crosshairs of our missiles. So, here we are back in the glorious 1970s.
“It is illogical. It is dangerous as instead of discussing development goals we will find ourselves back in a situation of armed confrontation.
“It is very bad and that is why we are trying to initiate negotiations with the Americans, sending these or those signal to see no reciprocity, due to various reasons.”