Nato sounds alarm on banned Russian missile system

The Russian frigate Admiral Essen in the Mediterranean Sea firing a Kalibr cruise missile at Islamic State targets near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Sept 5, 2017.
The Russian frigate Admiral Essen in the Mediterranean Sea firing a Kalibr cruise missile at Islamic State targets near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Sept 5, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Nato allies on Friday (Dec 15) publicly raised concern about a Russian cruise missile system that the alliance says may break a Cold War-era pact banning such weapons, in a show of support for Washington.

The United States believes Russia is developing a ground-launched cruise missile system with a range that is prohibited by a 1987 treaty, which could give Russia the ability to launch a nuclear strike on Europe on short notice.

"Allies have identified a Russian missile system that raises serious concerns," the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation said in a statement. "Nato urges Russia to address these concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and actively engage in a technical dialogue with the United States."

In a separate statement, the US envoy to Nato, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said: "Russia's behaviour raises serious concerns." Russia has denied it is violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

US-led Nato's concerns are likely to further strain relations between Moscow and the West that are already at a low over Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea, Western sanctions on the Russian economy and US accusations that Moscow used computer hackers to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Moscow denies that it interfered in the election.

The Nato statement follows a meeting between Russia and the United States in Geneva this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union.

According to an April US State Department report, Washington determined in 2016 that Russia was in violation of its treaty obligations "not to possess, produce, or flight-test" a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500km to 5,500km, "or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles".

Last week, the State Department said it is reviewing military options, including new intermediate-range cruise missile systems, the first response by US President Donald Trump's administration to the US charges.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week it was ready for talks with the United States to try to preserve the treaty and would comply with its obligations if the United States did.

In a statement marking the 30th anniversary of the IMF treaty last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow considered "the language of ultimatums" and sanctions unacceptable.