Putin Warns Europe of ‘Counterstrike’ if US Deploys New Missiles

October 25, 2018 Updated: October 25, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that if U.S. nuclear missiles are placed in Europe, the Kremlin will respond “in kind” and point its missiles at European targets.

Putin, who made the remarks at a news conference in Moscow on Oct. 24, said he wants to discuss with President Donald Trump plans for the United States to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Putin’s comments came as forces from 31 countries began NATO’s largest military exercise in decades, practicing military maneuvers close to Russia, at locations from Iceland to Finland.

The United States says Russia has violated the 1987 INF treaty and plans to withdraw; the Kremlin has denied allegations of breaking the agreement.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he believes Russia has violated the deal.

“All allies agree that the United States is in full compliance … the problem, the threat, the challenge is Russian behavior,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Oct. 24. “NATO is in favor of arms control but to be effective, arms control agreements have to be respected by all parties.”

Possible Deployment of US Missiles in Europe?

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told Putin on Oct. 23 that Washington would press ahead with plans to quit the treaty.

Bolton spoke at a press conference in Moscow on Oct. 24, leaving open the question of whether European countries would host nuclear weapons.

John Bolton speaks at press briefing
National security adviser John Bolton during a White House news briefing in Washington, DC, on Oct. 3, 2018. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“We’re a long way from any decisions on those kinds of questions,” Bolton said, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. “The problem is that there are Russian INF-violative missiles in Europe now. The threat is not American withdrawal from the INF treaty, the threat is the Russian missiles already deployed.”

The United States insists that Russia has a new medium-range missile called the Novator 9M729 (NATO classification SSC-8), in violation of the treaty. The weapon would enable Russia to launch a conventional or nuclear strike at NATO countries at very short notice. Russia has said little about its new missile other than to deny that it is in breach of the agreement.

NATO’s Stoltenberg told reporters that he doesn’t believe the Russian threat would lead to new deployments of missiles in Europe, adding that while NATO didn’t seek confrontation, the bloc would defend all allies against any threat.

NATO secretary general speaks
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a news conference after a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 4, 2018. (Reuters/Francois Lenoir)

‘Risk of a Possible Counterstrike’

Putin, however, raised the alarm about possible new missile deployments, saying he feared the world might be about to slip into a new arms race.

“If all this is dismantled, then nothing will be left when it comes to limiting the increase in arms,” said Putin. “And then the situation will be, in my view, extremely dangerous. All that will be left is an arms race.”

Russia has the option of deploying intermediate-range missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, a move that would put a swath of Europe in range. Putin said any European countries hosting U.S. missiles would risk Russian retaliatory strikes.

“If they will deliver them to Europe, naturally, our response will have to mirror this,” Putin said, adding that European countries that agree to host intermediate-range missiles “must understand that they are putting their own territory at risk of a possible counterstrike.”

China’s Missile Threat

The two-party INF pact, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, bans all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges, with the exception of sea-launched weapons.

Bolton has criticized the INF treaty as a “Cold War, bilateral, ballistic-missile-related treaty in a multi-polar ballistic missile world.” He said that it doesn’t restrict the activities of countries that didn’t sign the INF treaty—such as China, Iran, and North Korea—making them free to develop intermediate-range weapons.

“We estimate, for example, in the case of China, that somewhere between one-third and one-half of their ballistic missile capability would violate the INF if they were a party to it,” Bolton said.

“So, there’s a new strategic reality out there,” he said, adding that constraining the intermediate-range missile threat posed by the likes of China, Iran, and North Korea, should be on the joint agenda of both Russia and the United States.

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