Washington claims Moscow is violating a Cold War treaty and developing a ground-launched cruise missile which could empower Russia to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice. Russia has repeatedly denied any such violation.
“At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a (Russian) missile that could hit any of our countries,” US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said at a news conference on Tuesday in Brussels.
“Counter measures (by the United States) would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty,” she added. “They are on notice.”
Russia has not so far made any comment on the unprecedented threat issued by the top US official permanently stationed in the NATO headquarters.
In the past, Moscow has said it is ready for talks with Washington to preserve the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and would comply with its rules and regulations if the United States did.
In 2017, the US State Department accused Russia of violating its obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,417 miles).
A US official in the same year said that the United States would consider its own system if Russia continued its covert development of the banned system.
The three-decade-old arms control treaty bans the development of medium-range missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska.
“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.
“We are laying down the markers so that our allies will help us bring Russia to the table,” she added.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he would raise the issue with his NATO counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I cannot forecast where it will go, it is a decision for the president, but I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in State Department, there is a lot of concern about this situation and I’ll return with the advice of our allies and engage in that discussion to determine the way ahead,” he told reporters in Paris on Tuesday following his meeting with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.