Following a month of ratcheting US-Russia tensions and tit-for-tat accusations and posturing over Ukraine, the Kremlin has issued it's biggest threat yet, on Monday saying it might now be forced to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe. This raises the stakes significantly higher in the standoff which was sparked by widespread Western media reports alleging that Putin is preparing an "invasion" of Eastern Ukraine by calling up tens of thousands of extra troops near Crimea and the border region.
"Russia said on Monday it may be forced to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in response to what it sees as NATO's plans to do the same," Reuters reports of the new remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. He told Russia's RIA news agency in a fresh interview that "Moscow would have to take the step if NATO refused to engage with it on preventing such an escalation."
Ryabkov said that Russia believes NATO has been signaling it is moving closer to its own redeployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe. The INF Treaty, signed in 1987 between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, was designed to prevent just such a nuclear weapons standoff scenario on European soil. The United States formally suspended its participation in the INF Treaty under Trump on February 2 2019 amid Russian and as well as global warnings that Washington's exit would trigger a new post-Cold War era 'arms race'.
The Kremlin is now citing a "complete lack of trust" and specific indicators of NATO preparing to build-up previously banned weapons in Europe:
Ryabkov said there were "indirect indications" that NATO was moving closer to re-deploying INF, including its restoration last month of the 56th Artillery Command which operated nuclear-capable Pershing missiles during the Cold War.
He added: "Lack of progress towards a political and diplomatic solution to this problem will lead to our response being of a military and technical military nature."
"That is, it will be a confrontation, this will the next round, the appearance of such resources on our side. Right now there aren't any, we have a unilateral moratorium. We call for NATO and the US to join this moratorium."
So for now this fresh threat coming from the Kremlin appears geared toward building greater leverage to bring NATO back into direct dialogue at the negotiating table, following the recent Biden-Putin two hour summit wherein the Russian leader pressed Biden on "legal guarantees" that NATO would not conduct any further eastward expansion.
Lukashenko said he would ask Russia to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus if NATO deploys nuclear weapons in Poland. 34/https://t.co/xcGgbWOz2e— Rob Lee (@RALee85) November 30, 2021
Crucially, it must be remembered that Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko has within the past two months on more than one occasion issued an open invitation for Putin to station nuclear-capable missiles in Belarus, which would be very near NATO-member Poland as well as US-backed Ukraine. Reuters reported a month ago that, "Pesident of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko wants Russian nuclear-capable Iskander missile systems to deploy in the south and west of the country..." And further:
Lukashenko told National Defense magazine that he needed the Iskander mobile ballistic missile system, which has a range of up to 500 kilometers (311 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads.
Russia has lately complained that Brussels and the US do not take its legitimate security concerns seriously. Ryabkov echoed this ongoing concern in the fresh Monday statements: "They don't permit themselves to do anything that could somehow increase our security - they believe they can act as they need, to their advantage, and we simply have to swallow all this and deal with it. This is not going to continue," he said.
Four years ago, this week, America's @TheNatlInterest reported that "newly declassified documents (proved that) Mikhail Gorbachev was told NATO wouldn't move past the East German border.— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) December 13, 2021
This what today's stand-off over Ukraine is about. https://t.co/KZK2lIstfq pic.twitter.com/21CUUdhkEc
But NATO has denied these charges of new US missiles in Europe, only warning that conventional weapons could be used in any potential future "measured" response. Regardless, this fresh threat of INF deployment by Russia is sure to get NATO commanders' immediate attention.