The U.S. Ambassador to NATO speaking ahead of a NATO defence ministers’ meeting has said that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement of 1987. She also warned that if this continued the U.S. would “take out” these Russian missiles.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S.’ ambassador to NATO, brought up Washington's contention that Russia is in possession of a new medium-range missile in its inventory - the Novator 9M729 - known to Nato as the SSC-8. This missile would enable Russia to launch a nuclear strike at NATO countries at very short notice.
"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 said, according to a U.S. NATO mission transcript of a press conference on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in Brussels.
"They are building a medium-range ballistic missile in violation of the INF. That is a fact which we have proven," she added.
She appeared to indicate that the U.S. might consider military action if Russia's development of the aforementioned missile system continued. Hutchison said "the countermeasures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty."
"Getting them to withdraw would be our choice, of course. But I think the question was what would you do if this continues to a point where we know that they are capable of delivering. And at that point we would then be looking at a capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America in Alaska," she added.
Back in the Cold War, the U.S. was alarmed at the then Soviet Union's deployment of the SS-20 system. The resulting INF treaty swept this whole category of weapon away and significantly reduced tensions.
Later on Tuesday, Hutchinson said she "was not talking about pre-emptively striking Russia" when she said the U.S. would have to "take out" the Russian missiles.
"I was not talking about pre-emptively striking Russia. My point: (Russia) needs to return to INF Treaty compliance or we will need to match its capabilities to protect U.S. & NATO interests. The current situation, with (Russia) in blatant violation, is untenable," Hutchinson wrote on Twitter.
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded forcefully, saying Hutchison behaved "aggressively and destructively" by making the comments.