Nato rejects Russian offer on nuclear missiles freeze
Nato has rejected a Russian proposal for a freeze in the deployment of short and medium-range nuclear missiles after the US withdrew from a landmark cold war-era anti-proliferation pact that banned the weapons.
The military alliance on Thursday dismissed the Kremlin offer as not credible, since it would leave in place batteries of such weapons that western states say have already been deployed in western Russia and are able to target many European capitals.
The Russian move is part of a dispute over the unravelling of international non-proliferation efforts, in which Moscow has sought to present itself as peacemaker trying to restore global security. The Kremlin denies allegations by Washington and other Nato members that its new generation SSC-8 missiles violated the 1987 US-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Oana Lungescu, Nato spokesperson, confirmed receipt of a letter from Russian authorities pitching the moratorium idea but said the western allies had “heard this proposal before” and saw it as “not a credible offer”.
“It disregards the reality on the ground: Russia has already deployed the SSC-8, in violation of the INF treaty,” she said. “Unless and until Russia verifiably destroys the SSC-8 system, this moratorium on deployments is not a real offer. We call once again on Russia to behave like a responsible international actor.”
The letter suggests Moscow is open to discussions and will raise hopes that some form of negotiated settlement could be possible, as both Russia and the EU seek to avoid a costly and potentially dangerous arms race.
But previous attempts to rescue the INF deal or resurrect it in some form have been scuppered by Moscow’s denials that it was in breach of the rules, counterclaims from Russia that some EU-based US missile systems are also non-compliant, and the rise of China as a missile defence giant. Beijing was not a member of the INF treaty and has rebuffed any suggestions of joining such a pact.
Nato diplomats say Moscow had floated the moratorium plan in August, the month before both the US and Russia pulled out of the INF treaty. Washington quit first on the grounds the SSC-8 had for years violated the agreement, which banned nuclear and conventional missiles with a 500km to 5,500km range.
Some observers see the Kremlin’s attempts at negotiation as less concerned with persuading Nato than winning the backing of a wider international audience, particularly from states already suspicious of the western alliance.
The moratorium proposal was sent to “major countries in Europe and Asia and various international organisations”, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman of President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Thursday.
One Nato diplomat noted that the plan emerged in the week that Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, was attending high-level meetings at the UN General Assembly in New York. “It’s not a coincidence that the letter came in the UNGA week,” the diplomat said. “Nato is not popular everywhere, so the Russians may get some support in a UN context.”
The collapse of the INF treaty has added to wider fears of international nuclear proliferation. It is unclear whether the US and Russia will be able to extend the New Start agreement that caps the number of nuclear warheads held by both countries, which comes up for renewal in 2021.
An international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme is also in trouble, after the US quit it last year and imposed tough sanctions. Tehran denies its nuclear ambitions include weapons.