Russia threatened to deploy intermediate-range nuclear (INF) missiles in Europe on Monday, amid escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The missiles have a maximum range of 5,000km, meaning they would be capable of hitting multiple European capitals.
INF missiles were banned until 2019 when Washington quit an agreement between Russia and the United States citing Russian breaches.
They were initially banned in 1987 under a treaty signed between former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Regan.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkoc, warned that the Kremlin could use the weapons if NATO fails to rule out ever using them itself.
He warned that Moscow would “respond militarily” if NATO attempted to expand Eastward, but denied that Russia was planning an invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking to the state-run RIA Novosti agency, Mr Ryabkov said: “There will be confrontation, this will be the next step, [previously banned weapons] will appear from our side.
“They don’t exist now, we have a unilateral moratorium.”
He also said that Russian officials have a “complete lack of trust” in NATO.
A guarantee that NATO was not planning to expand further East was one of Mr Putin’s “red lines” in his phone call with President Joe Biden earlier in December.
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The two leaders held a two-hour video conference on December 7 in an attempt to calm tensions between the two sides.
Mr Biden warned Mr Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on the country if it invades Ukraine.
This was echoed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned Mr Putin in a phone call on Monday that Moscow would face “serious consequences” if it further encroaches on Ukrainian territory, expressing his “deep concern” with Moscow’s military build-up on the frontier.
A Downing Street spokesperson added that Mr Johnson emphasised “the UK’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial and sovereignty and warned that any destabilising action would be a strategic mistake that would have significant consequences.”
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However, Russian officials have denied that the country is planning an invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s armed forces chief Valery Gerasimov claimed that “information circulating in the media about the alleged impending Russian invasion of Ukraine is a lie”.
The country’s ambassador to the United Nations said last month that Moscow “never planned, never did, and is never going to do it unless we’re provoked by Ukraine, or by somebody else”.
Earlier this week, EU officials agreed to place sanctions on Russian organisations and officials in order to deter further actions.
EU foreign ministers agreed to hit targets linked to the Wagner Group, a Russian private military firm, with punitive sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans.
Eight people with ties to the mercenaries have been hit with the sanctions, including founder Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian special forces commander decorated by President Putin.
In a statement, the EU said: “The Wagner Group has recruited, trained and sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law.”