US set to pull out of missile pact with Russia

A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on Oct 22, 2018.
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on Oct 22, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS • The US has rejected a Russian offer to save a landmark treaty that keeps nuclear missiles out of Europe because it could not be properly verified, setting the stage for Washington to withdraw from the pact next month.

After a meeting in Geneva between Russian and US officials, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said on Wednesday that Moscow was refusing to allow proper inspection of a new Russian missile system that Washington says breaks the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The INF treaty, negotiated by then US 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.

The treaty bans land-based missiles with a range between 500km and 5,500km.

"We weren't able to break any new ground... with Russia," Ms Thompson said of Tuesday's meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry officials. "Based on yesterday's discussions and corresponding rhetoric today, we see no indication that Russia would choose compliance," Ms Thompson added.

The United States and its Nato allies want Russia to destroy its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missile system, which Washington says could allow Moscow to strike Europe at short notice, and comply with the INF treaty.

Without a deal, a US withdrawal will start from Feb 2.

"Russia must come back into compliance," Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters after a meeting at Nato in which Ms Thompson briefed allies.

 
 
 

But he said the alliance needed to be prepared for the collapse of the INF Treaty and that he had asked the military authorities to look into the consequences, although he declined to go into details.

European allies are worried about the deployment of US missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s, while being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.

"This is part of a pattern where Russia is investing in, modernising, exercising and testing nuclear weapons," Mr Stoltenberg said.

"I think the whole idea is for Russia to try to be able to reestablish a sphere of influence where they can try to intimidate and control some of their neighbours."

Russia denies any such strategy and accuses President Donald Trump of using Moscow as a pretext to quit the INF.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to save the pact and the US had not properly considered Moscow's proposals.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2019, with the headline 'US set to pull out of missile pact with Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe