U.S. signals it will suspend nuclear treaty with Russia after NATO finding

NATO allies say they have concluded that Russia is in violation of a landmark Cold War-era nuclear treaty, paving the way for the United States to leave the pact unless Moscow complies with it.

Russia would be given a notice period of 6 months to decide whether to be in compliance

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin gives a press conference at NATO headquarters on Tuesday. In the wake of Russian aggression, the secretary general said NATO already provides strong political support and strong practical support in the Black Sea to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. (Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE)

NATO allies say they have concluded that Russia is in violation of a landmark Cold War-era nuclear treaty, paving the way for the United States to leave the pact unless Moscow complies with it.

Foreign ministers from NATO member countries said in a statement Tuesday from Brussels that they "strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations" under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after the decision that the United States would suspend its treaty obligations in 60 days over the alleged violations.

"We either bury our head in the sand or we take common-sense action," said Pompeo.

Pompeo said Russia had developed "multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles," referring to the land-based, intermediate-range cruise missile which also has the name of Novator 9M729.

"Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe," he told a new conference after a meeting with his NATO counterparts.

U.S. President Donald Trump previously threatened to pull out of the bilateral pact.

The ministers called on Russia "to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance. It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty."

Russia would be given a notice period of six months to decide whether to comply when the U.S. suspends the treaty, originally signed by Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Pompeo said Washington "would welcome a Russian change of heart" but that he has seen no indication Moscow is likely to comply.

"It's up to Russia now to preserve the INF Treaty. They have a last chance to show and demonstrate in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. "But we also have to prepare for a world without the treaty."

Stoltenberg said the 29 NATO allies will "collectively develop responses" should the treaty be abandoned, but he declined to say what they might be.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters that "Russia strictly complies with the provisions of the treaty, and the American side is aware of that."

Voicing support for Ukraine

The development also comes a week after Russian border guards fired on three Ukrainian navy vessels in the Black Sea near the Russia-occupied Crimea. The vessels and the crews were captured.

The NATO partners on Tuesday also held talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. Kyiv is seeking international support for its Black Sea confrontation with Russia, though it was unclear what more NATO would do beyond the sea patrols and air policing it already does in the region.

Noting that Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Stoltenberg said the allies already "provide strong political support and strong practical support.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to the meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Pompeo said cruise missiles developed by Russia are a 'menace' to Europe. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

But as to what more NATO would do beyond the sea patrols and air policing it already does, he said: "There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea."

NATO allies have helped modernize Ukraine's armed forces and boosted their presence in the Black Sea over the last year, with more ships deployed in the region and more air policing. Three NATO allies on the Black Sea — Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey — are also taking individual measures.

NATO nations, individually and through the European Union, have also imposed economic and other sanctions on Russia since it annexed Crimea, but there is little appetite among the allies to broaden those measures.

With files from Reuters