U.S. Threatens to 'Take Out' Russia's New Missile System Ahead of Military Meeting With NATO

Washington's envoy to the NATO Western military alliance has warned that the U.S. was prepared to take military action against a new Russian missile system potentially capable of targeting European allies.

Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters that Russia's land-based, nuclear-capable Novator 9M729 missile system, dubbed SSC-X-8 by NATO, was a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987 by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Just one day before Secretary of Defense James Mattis was set to meet with NATO leaders in Belgium, Hutchison called on Moscow to comply with the Cold War–era agreement or else risk a major escalation.

"It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations," Hutchison told reporters in Belgium, where NATO is headquartered, according to the Associated Press.

She said that if the system "became capable of delivering," the U.S. "would then be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America."

Russia fires its Iskander-K ballistic missile system during the active phase of the Zapad-2017 drills, which took place between September 14 and September 20, 2017. The 9M729 is reportedly an extended variant of the missiles used by the Iskander-K and a land-based version of the naval Kalibr cruise missile. Russian Ministry of Defense

Since 2014, the U.S. has accused Russia of violating The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), which bans the production of all land-based nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles). In November, National Security Council official Christopher Ford first revealed that the 9M729 was the source of U.S. noncompliance accusations against Russia. The following month, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon told Russia's Kommersant newspaper, "Russia continues to produce and field a missile system that violates the INF Treaty," in an interview published on the 30th anniversary of the agreement.

"While we continue to seek a diplomatic solution to Russia's violation, the United States is also beginning to study military options for a ground-launched intermediate-range system to ensure, should Russia not return to compliance and should the INF Treaty collapse as a result of Russia's violation, that the United States will be able to defend itself and U.S. allies, and deny Russia the military advantage it has sought with the development of prohibited missiles," Shannon said at the time.

Tensions grew to the point at which former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty himself, warned that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin must solve the issue before sparking a new arms race. Russia, however, has denied violating the INF Treaty and has countered that the U.S. was, in fact, violating the treaty by deploying missile systems across Europe.

While not much is known about the 9M729, it is believed to use the same launcher as the Iskander missile system, which Russia has increasing deployed to its western border. In the neighboring Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—as well as Poland—NATO has established multinational battle groups designed to bolster defenses against perceived Russian aggression.

A U.S. Army serviceman stands at the red carpet ahead of an inauguration ceremony of the U.S. anti-missile station Aegis Ashore Romania (in the background) at the military base in Deveselu, Romania, on May 12, 2016. Russia has condemned the U.S. installation, claiming it was part of a wider missile shield designed to disarm Moscow. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

Since Russia's 2014 seizure of the Crimean Peninsula amid political unrest in Ukraine, NATO has adopted a tougher stance on its traditional foe, leading both sides to boost defenses and conduct historic exercises aimed at improving combat readiness. Trump has publicly criticized NATO, however, calling on its leaders to contribute more financially to the largely U.S.-backed coalition, whose ability to counter a Russian attack has been a source of concern for experts.

Mattis is set to attend the final NATO defense ministers' conference of 2018 on October 3 and 4 "to reinforce the need for equitable burden sharing, discuss implementation plans for key NATO summit outcomes, and reinforce the U.S. commitment to the alliance," according to the Defense Department.