U.S. Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison’s warning that NATO might be forced to “take out” Russian cruise missiles drew a curt rebuke from Moscow’s top diplomatic spokeswoman.
“Who has this lady been authorized by to make such statements?” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to TASS, a state-run outlet. “By the American people?"
Western officials have protested for years that Russia violated a Cold War-era arms control treaty that bans land-based, intermediate-range cruise missiles. Russia has denied those charges, while countering that U.S. missile defense systems are functionally the same thing. But Hutchison made clear that NATO wouldn’t accept those denials.
"Getting them to withdraw [the missile] would be our choice, of course," Hutchison told reporters in Brussels. "But I think the question was what would you do if this continues to a point where we know that they are capable of delivering. And at that point, we would then be looking at a capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America in Alaska.”
Zakharova maintained that the threatened response is inappropriate. "It seems that people who make such statements do not understand the degree of their responsibility and the danger of such aggressive rhetoric,” she said.
The warning drew criticism from some American experts. “This is super dangerous because it plays to a very specific Russian fear,” Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute, tweeted in response. “The Russians sincerely believe the U.S. missile defenses in Poland and Romania will be armed with nuclear weapons and used as covert INF forces to decapitate the Russian leadership.”
But Hutchison, who is also a former senator, emphasized that Russia is “on notice” about the need to dismantle their new missile system.
"We are not moving in that direction right now, but we are trying to tell Russia, and you know, the United States Congress told Russia last year when they passed the armed services bill about this time last year, that we know they have violated the treaty and we are beginning the research capabilities that are allowed by the treaty to deter a medium-range ballistic missile," Hutchison said.