BREAKING: Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the United States is using Russia as a scapegoat for the possible demise of the INF nuclear arms treaty and that Moscow will 'react' if Washington withdraws from the pact.
More to follow.
Russia says it has received official notification from Washington that the United States intends to withdraw from a Cold War nuclear-arms treaty unless Moscow returns to compliance with the accord.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow on December 5 that the official notice quoted unspecified evidence of alleged Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
'The Russian side has repeatedly declared that this is, to say the least, speculation,' Zakharova said of the U.S. allegation. 'No evidence to support this American position has ever been presented to us.'
Zakharova claimed that Russia had always respected the treaty and considered it 'one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.'
Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told foreign defense attaches in Moscow on December 5 that a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would be a 'dangerous step that can negatively affect not only European security, but also strategic stability as a whole.'
Missiles Banned By The INF Treaty
The remarks by Zakharova and Gerasimov come a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a NATO meeting in Brussels that Washington would abandon the INF Treaty in 60 days unless Moscow dismantles missiles that Washington says are a 'material breach' of the accord.
'During this 60 days we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we'll see what happens during this 60-day period,' Pompeo told journalists in Brussels.
'We've talked to the Russians a great deal. We're hopeful they'll change course, but there's been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so.'
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the U.S. ultimatum was an 'escalation of the situation.'
In comments on December 5, Peskov accused Washington of 'manipulating the facts...to camouflage the true aim of the United States in withdrawing from the treaty.'
In a joint statement, NATO foreign ministers complained that Russia has 'developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.'
Washington has complained about Moscow's deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, saying they fall under the treaty's ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
The NATO ministers on December 4 called on Russia to 'return urgently to full and verifiable compliance,' saying it is now "up to Russia to preserve the INF treaty.'
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that although Moscow has a last chance to comply, 'we must also start to prepare for a world without the treaty.'
With reporting by AP, AFP, Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti RFE/RL
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