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    Russia may unilaterally quit INF Treaty - General Staff

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    Moscow may unilaterally abandon the agreement between Russia and the United States on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, the chief of the General Staff said Thursday.

    MOSCOW, February 15 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow may unilaterally abandon the agreement between Russia and the United States on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, the chief of the General Staff said Thursday.

    The former Soviet Union and the U.S. signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) December 8, 1987. The agreement came into force in June 1988 and does not have a specific duration.

    "It is possible for a party to abandon the treaty [unilaterally] if it provides convincing evidence that it is necessary to do so," said Army General Yury Baluyevsky. "We have such evidence at present."

    The INF treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). By the treaty's deadline of June 1, 1991, a total of 2,692 such weapons had been destroyed, 846 by the U.S. and 1,846 by the Soviet Union.

    "Unfortunately, by adhering to the INF treaty, Russia lost many unique missile systems," the general said, adding that many countries are currently developing and modernizing medium-range missiles.

    Demand for the INF treaty arose in the 1970s when the Soviet Union began to deploy what the West called SS-20 missiles.

    These were two-stage, medium-range missiles, many of them mobile and hard for the United States to track or destroy. Since most SS-20s targeted Europe, they allegedly threatened America's NATO partners.

    The U.S. administration under Ronald Reagan proposed the so-called "zero option," stipulating that if the Soviet Union scrapped all its ground-launched medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, the United States would do the same and abandon its plans to deploy anti-missile defenses in Europe.

    Seeking better relations with the West, ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev agreed to remove more than three times as many warheads and destroy more than twice as many missiles as Washington by 1991.

    Baluyevsky's remarks could be interpreted as a strong warning to the U.S. regarding its plans to deploy elements of its anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and as a follow up to recent statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

    Putin said on February 10 that deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe could trigger a new arms race.

    The Russian leader told the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy that the reasons the U.S. cited in favor of deploying a missile defense system in Europe are not convincing enough, as launching North Korean ballistic missiles against the U.S. across Western Europe would be impossible, given the required trajectories.

    "This clearly contradicts the principles of ballistics. Or, as we say in Russia, it's like trying to reach your left ear with your right hand," he said.

    Moscow strongly opposes the deployment of a missile shield in its former backyard in Central Europe, describing the plans as a threat to Russian national security.

    Speaking at an annual televised news conference February 1, President Putin pledged to amend the country's military strategy in view of the new developments.

    "We must think - we are thinking - of ways to ensure our national security. All our responses will be asymmetrical but highly effective," he said.

    The Russian military chief said Thursday that Russia's participation in the INF treaty will depend on future U.S. moves on missile defenses.

    "What they [the Americans] are doing at present, building a third missile defense ring in Europe, is impossible to justify," Baluyevsky said.

    Washington has also recently moved its largest sea-based missile defense radar in the Pacific from Hawaii to the Aleutian Islands, not far from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.

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