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Russia dismisses NATO, US allegations on INF treaty

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

Russia has dismissed allegations by NATO and Washington that Moscow has been breaching a Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty with the United States by developing banned cruise missiles.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg formally accused Moscow on Tuesday of breaching the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.

In making that accusation, Stoltenberg was effectively backing US President Donald Trump, who in October accused Russia of not complying with the treaty without offering proof and announced a planned US withdrawal.

“It’s up to Russia now to preserve the INF Treaty,” said the NATO chief. “They have a last chance to show and demonstrate in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty.”

“But we also have to prepare for a world without the treaty,” he added.

While the US is a member of NATO, the military alliance itself is not a party to the INF. Furthermore, the US has substantial military presence, including in the form of personnel and matériel, all over Europe. Russia does not.

Moscow, which has denied the accusation by Trump, also dismissed Stoltenberg’s remarks, saying it was fully abiding by the provisions of the treaty.

“Russia strictly abides by the provisions of the [INF] treaty, and the American side knows this,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

She was also reacting to remarks later made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who at the same press conference with Stoltenberg set a deadline for Moscow to comply with the INF.

Pompeo said the Kremlin had 60 days to return to compliance with the treaty, or the Trump administration would abandon the pact.

“During these 60 days, we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period,” he said.

“Our nations have a choice. We either bury our head in the sand or we take common sense action in response to Russia’s flagrant disregard for the expressed terms of the INF Treaty,” Pompeo added.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) listens to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on December 4, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

In a statement, NATO foreign ministers also called on Russia “to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance.”

Moscow: US has offered no evidence of Russian breach

Zakharova told a briefing later on Wednesday that the US Embassy in Moscow had handed over a note and other documents on Tuesday that said Washington would scrap the INF unless Russia began complying with it.

But she reiterated that Washington was yet to provide any evidence that Moscow was in breach of the treaty.

“These documents were received for further processing,” she said. “In them, once again there were groundless allegations about our alleged violation of this agreement. We have repeatedly said that this is conjecture. No proof (of our alleged violation) has been presented to us.”

Zakharova said the Kremlin was ready to keep discussing the matter with Washington.

Russia calls for ‘fully-fledged negotiations’

Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the Defense and Security Committee at the Russian upper house, also responded to the accusations in an interview with Russia’s Sputnik news agency.

“Current misunderstanding on the INF Treaty could be resolved with the help of fully-fledged negotiations between Russia and the United States. Their result could be the adaptation of the Treaty,” Bondarev said.

“We consider it necessary to comply with the INF Treaty and advocate for its preservation. This is the official position of the Russian leadership,” he said. “However, if the United States terminates the treaty, we will have to respond with a set of measures, including accelerating the development and commission of the unique types of weapons.”

Previously, when Trump said the US would terminate the INF, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that his country would take corresponding measures.

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