Ottawa Citizen

U.S. threatens to ‘take out’ Russian missiles


BRUSSELS• In pointed remarks Tuesday, a top U.S. official warned Russia that it must stop the developmen­t of a new missile system that could potentiall­y carry nuclear warheads, or else the U.S. could step in and take it out.

“It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations,” U.S. Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters in Brussels, on the eve of a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his NATO counterpar­ts.

Hutchison was referring to what the U.S. says are violations of the 1987 Intermedia­te-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans medium-range missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska. The U.S. and Russia celebrated its 30th anniversar­y in Geneva in 2017.

NATO fears that Russia’s 9M729 missile system contravene­s the pact that bans all land-based cruise missiles with a range between 5005,500 kilometres. The alliance says the Russian system fits into that category.

Hutchison said that if the system “became capable of delivering,” the U.S. “would then be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America.”

“Counter measures (by the U.S.) would be to take out the missiles that are in developmen­t by Russia in violation of the treaty,” she added. “They are on notice.”

Some social media users reacted with alarm over words they described as “dangerous” and “foolhardy,” with the potential to further inflame highly strained relations between Russia and the West. The comments by Hutchison are the most direct warning of a pre-emptive strike since a U.S. official said in 2017 the United States would consider its own system if Russia continued to violate the INF.

Moscow denies that it is doing anything untoward, and claims in turn that U.S. missile systems are in breach of the agreement. The New York Times reports that the Russian missile in question is the same one that the Obama administra­tion raised concerns about in 2014, claiming at that point that it had been tested in violation of the INF. That missile has now moved beyond the test phase and has a “fully operationa­l unit,” the Times cited U.S. officials as having said.

Washington has shared intelligen­ce evidence with its 28 NATO allies that Russia is developing the ground-fired cruise missile and that the system could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.

Hutchison said the U.S. doesn’t want to violate the treaty but that Russia could force its hand.

“There will come a point in the future in which America will determine that it has to move forward with a developmen­t phase that is not allowed by the treaty right now,” she said.

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