Russia warns of “retaliation” for Donald Trump admin. bailing on INF nuclear treaty

MOSCOW — Russian officials on Wednesday warned of unspecified “retaliation” to the U.S. decision to walk out of a key arms treaty. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a NATO meeting Tuesday that Washington will suspend its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 60 days, citing Russian “cheating.”

The U.S. has shared intelligence evidence with its NATO allies that it says shows that Russia’s new SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.

The bilateral treaty between Washington and Moscow banned all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 310 and 3,410 miles. Russia says the range of the new system does not exceed 310 miles.

NATO has backed up the Trump administration’s argument, agreeing that Russia is in violation of the treaty while Washington continues to adhere to it.

The European Union has urged both the United States and Russia to uphold the INF treaty, saying the pact is one of the cornerstones of European security. But in October, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stopped short of calling on Washington, the biggest and most influential NATO member, to stay in the treaty.

“The INF is a landmark treaty but the problem is that no treaty can be effective, can work, if it’s only respected by one part,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, noting that the “U.S. is in full compliance.”

He said that based on U.S. estimates and Russia’s reluctance to discuss the missile system with NATO, “the most plausible explanation is that Russia is in violation of the treaty.”

Pompeo said Washington “would welcome a Russian change of heart” but that he has seen no indication that Moscow is likely to comply.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian military, told a briefing of foreign military attaches on Wednesday that if the U.S. “were to destroy” the treaty “we will not leave it without a response.”

He did not give specifics, but he told the attaches that it would be the countries that host U.S. intermediate-range missiles that would become immediate targets for Russia.

Russia has already received official notification from the United States that it intends to walk out of the INF, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Wednesday.

Zakharova insisted that Russia has always respected the treaty and considers it “one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”

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