EU warns of 'last opportunity' for Moscow to respect nuclear missile treaty
BRUSSELS -- The European Union (EU) Sunday (July 14) urged Russia to ensure continued respect of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, after Moscow suspended its participation in the agreement.
"We are deeply concerned over developments with regard to the INF Treaty, which could end" on August 2, 2019," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
"The upcoming days represent the last opportunity for dialogue and taking the necessary measures to preserve this important component of European security architecture," she said.
Russia and the United States have both suspended their participation in the Cold War-era treaty, which bans a whole class of nuclear-capable missiles. Each accuses the other of having violated the accord.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 3 signed into law a bill formalising its suspension.
Meanwhile, Washington has said it will quit the deal for good on August 2 unless Russia destroys a controversial new missile system that Washington says breaches the accord.
The EU strongly urged the Kremlin "to effectively address the serious concerns repeatedly expressed" about the ground-based missile system 9M729, said Mogherini.
Moscow should take "substantial and transparent actions" to ensure compliance with the treaty, she said in the statement.
Repeated nuclear threats
Despite numerous opportunities to prove its compliance or destroy the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system, Russian officials have continued to deny it is in violation of the treaty.
Instead, the Kremlin and Russian military officials have issued open threats against the the United States and Europe.
Putin's state-of-the-nation speech on February 20 was no different.
"I will say this clearly and openly today... Russia will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used... against the decision-making centres that are behind the missile systems that threaten us," he said in remarks.
Putin has made no secret of his facetious approach toward nuclear security.
Speaking at a forum of international specialists in Sochi last October, Putin joked about Russia as a supposed victim in a theoretical nuclear exchange.
"The aggressor will have to understand that retaliation is inevitable, that it will be destroyed and that we, as victims of aggression, as martyrs, will go to heaven," he said.
"They will simply die because they won't even have time to repent," he said to some laughter from the audience.
Global security in peril
The INF Treaty was signed in 1987, toward the end of the Cold War, by then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
It banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500km.
It is considered a cornerstone of the global arms control architecture, and its looming demise has triggered fears for the future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Russia and the United States, which caps the number of nuclear warheads well below Cold War limits and is set to expire in 2021.