Since 2016, I have tried to warn about returning to the Cold War, with all its implications, including armed conflict between Russia and the United States, of which Europe would clearly be the main victim.
In October 2018, the American president declared that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. An integral part of the military détente between Western and Eastern blocs, this treaty was one of many agreements reached between the two great powers of that era to allow for the smooth transition of a peaceful new world order. Two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe had ceased to be a theater of confrontation, which, for generations, had threatened its people. There was great relief. At last, our children would no longer live in fear of a nuclear war caused by their elders; across Europe, people could coexist peacefully and without a sense of dread.
Then came this October incident, barely mentioned in our press despite its importance. Washington announced that Russia had violated the 1987 treaty, and that the U.S. would withdraw from it after the six-month delay stipulated in the treaty 31 years ago.
Apparently the Americans have no doubt that Russia violated this bilateral agreement. It is clear to them that Russia is producing medium-range missiles (with a range of 500 to 5,500 km, or approximately 211 to 3,418 miles) equipped with nuclear warheads. On Feb. 1, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed that the U.S. would withdraw from the treaty, explaining that Moscow could prevent this move by immediately halting production of the missiles prohibited in 1987. Some imagine that Russia will comply with this ultimatum, as in the days of Boris Yeltsin. This is naïve!
The next day, Russian television produced a broadcast featuring Vladimir Putin, flanked by his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his defense minister, Sergey Shoigu. Official statements on Feb. 3 composed by the well-known journalist, Dmitiri Kiselyov, topped off the message. These widely disseminated communications emphasized Putin’s decision that Russia would, in turn, withdraw from the 1987 treaty. Refusing to accept the American ultimatum, he declared a willingness to negotiate only after his counterparts had matured enough to discuss the matter on equal terms.
Indeed, the Russians accuse the Americans themselves of having violated the INF Treaty since 1999, by producing military drones equivalent to cruise missiles, and in 2014, by establishing missile bases in Poland and Romania.
The Kremlin’s statements on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 must be taken very seriously, because they are a response to statements from Washington that were instantly supported by NATO allies. Russia’s obsession about being encircled by an ever-stronger military alliance (soon to be 30 countries, including Northern Macedonia) is not to be taken lightly. The issue of abandoning the INF Treaty is laden with grave danger. It is, therefore, necessary that all relevant officials, especially in Europe, take measures against the coming perils of more rapidly deteriorating relations between Russian and the West. With European elections only four months away, it seems to me vital for the populace to be correctly informed about this important topic. The danger of war is at least as serious as global warming and perhaps more imminent.
Continuing to systematically oppose Russia and to blindly follow decisions from across the Atlantic is a shortsighted policy, devoid of common sense. As the Belgian Socialist politician Paul-Henri Spaak used to say, it is not too late, but it is time.