The US would look into ways of “taking out” new Russian missiles if they become operational, the US envoy to NATO said, accusing Moscow of developing a weapon that “violates” the Soviet-US nuclear arms treaty.
US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison didn’t miss an opportunity to fire a warning shot in the direction of Russia when accusing it of building new nuclear missiles that would allegedly be pointed at Europe. Should such missiles be completed, she said at the Tuesday briefing, “at that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a [Russian] missile that could hit any of our countries.”
Hutchison then doubled down on the threat, saying: “Counter measures [by the United States] would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty.” She added: “They are on notice.”
Hutchison was referring to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans the use of all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, that have ranges of between 500km and 5,500km. The US has claimed that Moscow is not complying with the INF treaty, an accusation that Russia has repeatedly rejected.
“We have been trying to send a message to Russia for several years that we know they are violating the treaty, we have shown Russia the evidence that we have that they are violating the treaty,” Hutchison maintained.
The Russian Foreign Ministry blasted the statements made by the US envoy as “aggressive and destructive,” adding that they will get a detailed response from Russian military experts. NATO doesn’t understand the degree of its responsibility and the danger posed by such aggressive rhetoric, the ministry said.
Later, though, Hutchison backed down on her statement as she said she did not actually intend to threaten Russia with a pre-emptive strike. She only wanted to point out that Moscow “needs to return to the INF Treaty compliance” or the US would be forced to “match its capabilities to protect the US and NATO,” the ambassador said in a Twitter post.
Her comment still provoked a wave of criticism on Twitter as people said that she was not fit for her job if she could not formulate her thoughts clearly. Others accused her of carelessly risking World War III.
Hutchison’s comments came several weeks after President Donald Trump signed the US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019. The document contains, among other things, allegations that Moscow violated the INF Treaty.
Moscow, in turn, accuses the US and “some of its allies” of knowingly violating the INF by deploying Mk-41 launching systems close to Russian borders. These can be easily repurposed for firing banned ground-based cruise missiles, it says, while Washington denies the accusations.
Under the 2019 NDAA, US legislators allocated $58 million to counter Russia’s alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty. The measures to counter the alleged activities include a “research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile,” which, somehow, should not itself violate the treaty.
Russian lawmakers have also promised countermeasures. “If the missile announced by Congress indeed makes it into the American arsenal, we will have to develop and adopt the same thing. Russia has the military and technical capacities for that,” Viktor Bondarev, the head of the defense committee of Russia’s Federal Council, has said.