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Russia lashes out, threatens to target U.S. allies if Trump kills arms treaty

December 5, 2018

Russia lashed out Wednesday in response to Washington’s threat to pull out of a key Cold War weapons treaty, with a top general in Moscow saying Russian forces will target European countries hosting American missiles if the U.S. follows through on the threat.

“The target for Russian retaliation won’t be U.S. territory but the countries where the intermediate-range missiles are deployed,” Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov said, a day after the Trump administration said it is preparing to withdraw from the 30-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement at NATO headquarters in Belgium Tuesday, claiming Russia is already flagrantly violating the INF and asserting that Washington will “remedy” the situation by pulling out of the pact in 60 days unless Moscow takes clear steps to come back into compliance.

Mr. Pompeo’s ultimatum came after months of warnings from the Trump administration, which has been joined by NATO allies in calling Russia out for developing and deploying missiles that violate the 1987 year INF Treaty allegations Moscow denies.

The treaty, negotiated by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prevents the U.S. and Russia them from building or deploying nuclear-capable missiles and launch systems with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. Analysts say the pact’s goal when signed was to prevent a buildup of so-called “tactical nukes” by U.S. and Russian forces in nations across both Eastern and Western Europe.

Mr. Pompeo’s announcement Tuesday marked an escalation of U.S. threats to abandon the INF in response to Russian cheating and, on Wednesday, Mr. Gerasimov emphasized Moscow’s frustration at the move.

“If the INF treaty is destroyed, we won’t leave it without a response,” he said in a presentation to foreign military attaches in Moscow, according to a report by The Moscow Times newspaper.

While other Russian officials were defiant, some suggested Moscow may seek to hold talks on the situation with Washington. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that Moscow is ready to discuss problems with INF, but she stressed such talks can only happen without “baseless accusations and ultimatums,” according to The Moscow Times.

While Mr. Pompeo’s announcement left open a 60-day window for talks, the dramatic move set nerves on edge at a gathering of NATO’s top diplomats, raising the prospect that new Cold War-style arms race could be about to play out across the continent.

Mr. Pompeo was pushed behind-the-scenes Tuesday by NATO allies led by Germany to give diplomacy a final push before withdrawing from the INF. “Russia has a last chance to show in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. “But we also have to start to prepare for the fact that this treaty may break down.”

Mr. Pompeo was seen to have won clear-cut support from the alliance Tuesday night after NATO foreign ministers issued a statement formally declaring Russia in “material breach” of the INF.

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