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Russia Presses Claim In Cold War Missile-Pact Dispute

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Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky speaks during a briefing by the Russian Defense Ministry, as the 9M729 land-based cruise missile is displayed near its launcher in Kubinka, outside Moscow, on January 23.

Russia has held an elaborate presentation to amplify its claim that a new missile at the center of a dispute with the United States and NATO does not violate a key Cold War-era arms pact, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Foreign military attaches were invited to the Defense Ministry's January 23 event outside Moscow, the latest salvo in a series of accusations between Russia and the United States over the treaty.

President Donald Trump announced in October that the United States would pull out of the pact, citing an alleged Russian violation and concerns that Washington is restricted by the bilateral treaty while nuclear-armed countries such as China are not.

On December 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Moscow that the United States would begin its withdrawal from the pact if Russia did not come into compliance within 60 days.

The United States says that the 9M729 violates the treaty, which prohibits the two countries from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Russia denies it is in breach. At the conference outside Moscow, Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky, the chief of the military's missile and artillery forces, said the 9M729 -- also known as the SSC-8 -- had a maximum range of 480 kilometers.

"The distance was confirmed during strategic-command-and-staff exercises" in 2017, he said. "Russia has observed and continues to strictly observe the points of the treaty, and does not allow any violations," Matveyevsky said.

Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky speaks at the Patriot Expocenter near Moscow on January 23.
Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky speaks at the Patriot Expocenter near Moscow on January 23.

But U.S. and other Western officials have repeatedly rejected that claim, and the Defense Ministry said that U.S. and other Western diplomats who were invited to the presentation did not attend.

"The military attaches from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, and the NATO and EU officials who were sent invitations declined to attend the briefing," the ministry said.

During a visit to Washington, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on January 23 said it was up to Russia to salvage the INF Treaty.

"The ball is still in Russia's court," he told reporters after meeting with Pompeo.

Russia "so far has not been willing to establish complete transparency. Just looking at one missile won't be enough," Mass said.

Amid strained ties with the West, President Vladimir Putin's government has held several conferences and presentations in recent years that have been dominated from the Russian side by criticism of U.S. military policies such as missile-defense plans.

Moscow has said it is ready to work with Washington to save the INF agreement. But it has given no indication that it might abandon its claim that the 9M729 is compliant, and U.S. officials have suggested such remarks are a ploy.

A January 25 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council will be "another opportunity to show allied unity" and "to hear Russia's proposals for how they intend -- if they intend -- to come back into compliance," Alberque said. "Somehow, I doubt they will. I think they are going to continue to try to seek to divide allies."

The 9M729 "is a threat to European security," Alberque said at a meeting of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defense. "These missiles cannot hit targets in North America. They are designed to hit targets in Europe."

"It is designed to cut off Europe from North America," he added." It is even designed to do a dual decoupling -- to decouple Western and Eastern Europe, to divide allies, to try to build divisions within the [NATO] alliance. And so far, it has not worked."

Talks in Geneva earlier last week failed to end the dispute, and a U.S. diplomat said on January 21 that there is "only one path forward" for Moscow to return to compliance: to "verifiably destroy all SSC-8 missiles, launchers, and associated equipment."

Putin has threatened to develop nuclear missiles banned under the INF treaty if the United States does so. He said in December that he was open to the idea of other countries joining the deal or to talks on a new agreement.

Alberque, who is American, seemed to suggest that the United States would be open to a broader agreement involving other countries in addition to Russia and the United States.

"I think there is a positive way forward," he said. "There was a Russian proposal back in 2007 with the United States in the UN General Assembly to globalize the INF Treaty....I do think precision missiles in every conflict context around the world [are] a threat to crisis stability, and I think there are ways to look at some sort of globalized limits on ballistic and cruise missiles in the intermediate range."

In December, a day before Pompeo announced the 60-day deadline for Russia to comply with the INF, Trump said he was certain that "at some time in the future" he, Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping would "start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable arms race."

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AP, AFP, dpa, TASS, and Interfax
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