No movement in Russian missile talks: NATO chief

Published February 16, 2019, 7:37 AM

by Patrick Garcia

By Agence France-Presse

Russia gave “no new signals” Friday about saving a landmark Cold War missile control agreement, the head of NATO said, as fears grow of a new arms race in Europe.

Deployment of Russia's 9M729 cruise missile has caused the US to begin pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (AFP Photo/Vasily MAXIMOV )
Deployment of Russia’s 9M729 cruise missile has caused the US to begin pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (AFP Photo/Vasily MAXIMOV )

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov brought no breakthrough and no indication that Moscow might be willing to back down over a missile system which NATO says breaches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The impending collapse of the 1987 agreement — seen as a cornerstone of global arms control — has raised doubts about the future of the fight against proliferation.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said more talks between Russia, the US and European nations were urgently needed to save the deal.

The US began pulling out of the INF treaty earlier this month in response to Moscow’s deployment of the 9M729 missile, prompting Russia to announce its own withdrawal.

NATO has been urging Russia to save the treaty by abandoning the missile system, which officials say can hit capital cities throughout Europe as far as London.

“There were no new signals from the Russian side,” Stoltenberg said after talks with Lavrov at the Munich Security Conference.

NATO has begun planning for the collapse of the treaty, but insists it will not “mirror” Russia, and Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said there should be no “tit for tat”.

– Chinese missiles –
While pointing the finger at each other, both Washington and Moscow have voiced concern that the INF — a bilateral treaty — does nothing to constrain rapidly growing military power China.

Germany is organising an international conference in Berlin next month to start talks about how to create an arms control regime to replace the one forged in the bipolar Cold War era.

But the challenges are obvious. According to a new report by the Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), up to 95 percent of China’s arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles would be in breach of the INF if Beijing were party to it.

Given this, “it is difficult to envision a scenario under which China would today enter a regime such as the INF Treaty,” the IISS report said.

Russia insists its missile system conforms to the treaty and offered foreign media and officials a viewing in a park outside Moscow last month.

US officials have said the “static display” did not answer the concerns about the missile, and Stoltenberg accused Moscow of disregarding the inspection protocols enshrined in the treaty.

“There is a specific verification committee and there are specific guidelines, rules on how to inspect, so a static display is not verification according to the treaty,” he said.

The US has been raising concerns about the new Russian missile for more than five years, and last year published evidence it said proved the system was in breach.

Evidence has now been gathered independently by “several” other NATO countries that confirms the breach, Stoltenberg said.