U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says NATO defense ministers have agreed that Russia has "violated" a key nuclear arms-control treaty and have discussed ways to bring Moscow back into compliance.
"The discussion included a consideration of the Russian Federation's violation of the Intermediate[-Range] Nuclear Forces Treaty and our collective efforts to bring Russia back to compliance,” Mattis told reporters on November 9 in Brussels following a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers.
“This is absolutely necessary to sustain confidence in the arms-control agreement," he added.
Signed in 1987, the treaty, known as the INF, eliminated an entire class of cruise and ballistic missiles in Europe and is considered a bedrock treaty for U.S.-Russian arms control.
The U.S. State Department's annual arms-control compliance report, issued in April, asserted for the fourth consecutive year that Russia had developed a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the treaty.
Moscow rejects the U.S. accusations and says the United States’ deployment of antimissile systems in Romania and Poland contradicts the treaty provisions -- something Washington denies.
"The bottom line is -- you have to have respect for other nation's security when you make agreements, when you sign treaties, you have to live up to those treaties, and we have a firm belief now over several years that the Russians have violated the INF and our effort is to bring Russia back into compliance, it is not to walk away from the treaty,” Mattis said in Brussels.
The U.S. defense secretary said that “many” NATO nations have their own evidence that Russia is violating the INF treaty, adding that the United States and the alliance would be engaging with Moscow to try and resolve the issue.
Speaking at a news briefing in Brussels on November 8, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO allies “stressed -- just as they did at the Warsaw summit in 2016 -- that the INF treaty is very important and that a strong and viable INF treaty is a pillar of European security."
Russian legislators denied that Russia has violated the treaty and said the United States itself has plans to develop an intermediate-range missile that would be in violation and would prompt Russia to design a similar weapon, Russian news media reported.
Although Mattis said the United States does not intend to "walk away" from the treaty, Russian legislators also said the United States is accusing Russia of treaty violations to create an excuse to withdraw from the agreement.
"Russia has not violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty," the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council committee on defense and security, as saying on November 9.
"The United States has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the INF Treaty," the legislator was quoted as saying. "If the threats eventuate, then Russia, of course, will respond in a prompt and tit-for-tat manner."
"Russia should struggle to the end to preserve the treaty...But if and when the Americans pull out of this treaty, certainly Russia won't be bound by any obligations under this treaty... We will be free to act," Russian news agencies quoted RussianFederation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov as saying in Moscow on November 9.
On the broader issue of NATO's new command structures announced at the Brussels meeting, Aleksandr Grushko, Russia's envoy to NATO, told Russian news agencies on November 9 that the new arrangements amount to a return to Cold War defenses.
"NATO members were apparently inspired by Cold War-era strategies," and have adopted "a copy of the structure which existed until 2002," Grushko was quoted as saying.
Besides discussing military strategy, Mattis said on November 9 that NATO defense ministers also “discussed at length Russia's now-constant efforts to intercede in our sovereign democratic processes."
The U.S. Justice Department and lawmakers are investigating alleged Russian interference in last year’s presidential election in the United States. Moscow has also been accused of trying to influence votes in France, Germany, and other European countries.
More recently, Spanish media have accused Russian state-funded media of playing a destabilizing role in the crisis triggered by Catalonia's controversial October 1 independence referendum.
Asked about the claims, the commander of NATO forces in Europe, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, said, "It is something that we've seen in the United States, we've seen it in a number of countries here."
"It should stop meddling in other nations, [in] what is their sovereign right to determine their government and how it works," he told reporters in Belgian capital on November 9.
Russia denies trying to influence foreign elections.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, TASS, and Interfax