Nato, Russia to meet amid missile arms race fears

Nato headquarters in Brussels (AFP pic)

BRUSSELS: Nato and Russia will hold talks this week as fears grow of a new arms race in Europe, with the US vowing to pull out of a Cold War weapons treaty in response to new Russian missiles.

The meeting of the Nato-Russia Council (NRC), the first since May, comes as the transatlantic alliance carries out its biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War in Norway, a show of strength intended to deter any would-be aggressor — and which the Kremlin has criticised as “anti-Russian”.

Events over recent years — from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 to the deadly nerve agent attack in Britain in March, blamed on the Kremlin — have seen tensions between Nato and Russia soar.

But the two sides have maintained regular dialogue in Brussels and ambassadors from the 29 Nato countries will meet their Russian counterpart on Wednesday, an alliance official said.

“This is part of Nato’s twin-track approach of strong defence and meaningful dialogue with Russia, and will be the eighth meeting of the NRC in the last two years,” the official said.

No details of the agenda have been published but a European diplomat said Russia had asked for discussion of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans mid-range missiles.

US President Donald Trump sparked concerns earlier this month when he announced he was pulling out of the INF treaty, a pillar of Cold War disarmament, in response to Russia’s deployment of a missile system Washington says breaches the accord.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that abandoning the INF agreement could lead to a new arms race, and vowed to respond in kind if the US deployed any new missiles on European soil.

Trump’s move is not backed by all Nato members and alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg has insisted there is no desire for reviving the Cold War or starting a new arms race.

Wednesday’s talks are also expected to cover the Ukraine crisis, the war in Afghanistan and military transparency.