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Top U.S. General Says Russia Deployed Banned Missiles To Threaten NATO

Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Paul Selva
Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Paul Selva

WASHINGTON -- The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says Russia has deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the "spirit and intent" of a Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty -- and that it did so to "pose a threat to NATO."

General Paul Selva, the second highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. armed forces, confirmed on March 8 that Russia had deployed its new ground-launched SSC-8 cruise missile.

U.S. officials have said Russia has been developing and testing the SSC-8 missile for several years, despite accusations from Washington that it violates the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).

Selva told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington that "the system itself presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe."

Selva said "We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility."

Former President Barack Obama has accused Russia of violating the ING Treaty, but Selva's testimony was the first public confirmation of recent news reports that Russia had secretly deployed the missile.

Selva said the United States already has raised the issue with Russia.

He did not say what options were being considered if the discussions do not lead to results.

Selva said "we have been asked to incorporate a set of options into the Nuclear Posture Review," a legislatively mandated report that establishes U.S. nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities, and force posture for the next five to 10 years.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at a March 8 briefing after Selva's testimony that the United States thinks Russia "remains in violation" of its INF commitments.

Toner declined to make any further comment, saying "it gets into intelligence matters."

Selva's remarks further complicate President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign promise to try to seek more conciliatory relations with Moscow.

The New York Times reported on February 14 that Russia now has "two battalions of the prohibited cruise missile."

It said one battalion was still located at the Kapustin Yar missile test range in southern Russia while the other "was shifted in December from that test site to an operational base elsewhere in the country."

The New York Times report said each missile battalion is thought to have four mobile launchers and "a larger supply of missiles."

The U.S. State Department first accused Russia of potential violations of the INF Treaty in a formal statement issued in July 2014.

That same month, Obama also informed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter about Washington's determination that Moscow was in violation of its INF obligations.

In 2016, in an attempt to push the issue of INF Treaty compliance further, U.S. arms control officials called for a meeting between U.S. and Russian technical experts under a treaty provision called the Special Verification Commission.

U.S. officials had resisted asking for such a meeting for years, in the belief that any key decisions or concessions would have to be approved first by the Kremlin.

Russia has responded to the allegations by accusing Washington of conducting "megaphone diplomacy.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied that it is violating the INF treaty.

The Kremlin has also repeatedly pointed to the deployment of U.S. antimissile defense systems in Central and Eastern Europe, saying the technology is a potential violation.

When the INF treaty was implemented, it eliminated an entire category of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons delivery vehicles -- including land-based missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,500 km.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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