BRUSSELS • Nato's top official has blamed Russia for breaching a landmark nuclear arms pact that Washington is talking about quitting, but said he did not believe the Russian threat would lead to new deployments of US missiles in Europe.
The Nato allies are due to meet today to hear Washington explain the thinking behind President Donald Trump's move to quit the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles.
European allies see the INF treaty as a pillar of arms control and, while accepting that Moscow is violating it by developing new weapons, are concerned its collapse could lead to a new arms race with possibly a new generation of US nuclear missiles stationed on the continent.
In his first remarks since Washington announced last Saturday that it planned to pull out of the INF treaty, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg lay the blame on Russia for violating the treaty by developing the SSC-8, a land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile that also has the name of Novator 9M729.
But he said he did not think this would lead to reciprocal deployment of US missiles in Europe as happened in the 1980s.
"We will assess the implications for Nato allies, for our security, of the new Russian missile... but I don't foresee that allies will station more nuclear weapons in Europe as a response to the new Russian missile," Mr Stoltenberg told a news conference yesterday.
He spoke a day after US National Security Adviser John Bolton informed Russian President Vladimir Putin of the plans in Moscow.
During his visit to Russia, Mr Bolton also commented that Russian meddling in US elections had backfired on Moscow, providing a lesson to the Kremlin.
US intelligence agencies say Russia carried out a campaign of hacking and propaganda targeting the 2016 poll in an attempt to sow discord, discredit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and boost support for Mr Trump, a Republican.
Mr Trump has said the US will develop new intermediate-range missiles unless Russia and China agree to halt development of their own.
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 West Germany were removed as a result, while the Soviet Union pulled back its SS-20s out of European range.
But since 2014, the US has accused Russia of breaching the INF by developing the SSC-8, though Moscow denies it is in violation and says the planned US withdrawal from the INF pact is dangerous.
"All allies agree that the United States is in full compliance... the problem, the threat, the challenge is Russian behaviour," Mr Stoltenberg said.
A US exit from the INF treaty would put another strain on Nato allies already shaken by Mr Trump's demands for higher defence spending by the Europeans.
"It is another headache for the secretary-general because there is no agreement in Nato about what to do," said Mr Lukasz Kulesa, an arms control expert at the European Leadership Network think-tank.
"European allies are not really sure where the US strategy is going," he added.
Nato envoys are due to be briefed by a US arms control official today in Brussels. They are concerned about the fate of other arms control and safety pacts with Russia, including the 2010 New Start nuclear treaty, which can be extended beyond 2021 by mutual agreement.
Mr Stoltenberg said he still hoped the US and Russia could agree to extend the New Start treaty, which also limits deployed land-and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers, although Mr Trump has described it as a bad deal.