Russia continues denials as deadline approaches to destroy nuclear missile
Pressure is mounting as only days remain for Russia to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by destroying a cruise missile system that all 29 NATO members say breaches the landmark accord and increases nuclear threat tensions globally.
The United States has given Russia until February 2 to dismantle its SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system, threatening to withdraw from the 1987 treaty within six months if Moscow does not take action.
Talks between US and Kremlin officials in Geneva last week led nowhere, with the Americans accusing Russia of dishonesty and evasiveness and Moscow calling for more talks.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the system contravenes the treaty and, to prove its point, showed off the missile at Patriot Park near the town of Kubinka just outside Moscow on Wednesday (January 23).
Mikhail Matveevsky, Russia's chief of artillery and missile troops, said the missile's maximum range is 480 kilometres. The INF Treaty bans missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
"Russia was in compliance and continues to be in strict compliance with the stipulations of the treaty and does not allow any violations," he told foreign media and military officials gathered for the unveiling.
Russia said 21 foreign military officials were in attendance at the briefing, though none from any NATO country.
Washington has said a "static display" of the missiles would not be satisfactory, because it would not show whether they breach the treaty.
"Russia must verifiably destroy all SSC-8 missiles, launchers and associated equipment in order to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty," US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood said Monday (January 21).
"Unfortunately, the United States increasingly finds that Russia cannot be trusted to comply with its arms control obligations and that its coercive and malign actions around the globe have increased tensions," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of a new arms race if the INF Treaty collapses, saying Europe would be its main victim.
Putin has made no secret of his facetious approach towards nuclear security.
NATO, Russian officials meet
The INF Treaty will be on the agenda for the Friday (January 25) meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas used a visit to Moscow on January 18 to spell out the alliance's view that it was up to Russia to save the treaty by dismantling the missile system.
"Like other NATO members, we believe that there is a missile violating this treaty and it should be destroyed in a verifiable manner to get back to the implementation of this agreement," Maas told reporters.
Washington has raised concerns about the missile system with the Russians at least 30 times over the past five years, according to officials.
In December the United States took the unusual step of publishing extensive details of the evidence it has shown Moscow to prove the missiles breach the treaty.
Moscow continues to deny the claims and has made several counter-accusations against the US.