The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on the United States to withdraw nuclear weapons from European territory.
"Russia returned all its nuclear weapons to its national territory. We believe that the same should have been done by the American side a long time ago," Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, told Sputnik.
However, according to him, Washington "continues to keep, according to estimates, up to two hundred aviation bombs in Europe."
"And they plan to modernize them in such a way that they become, according to a number of retired US military, 'more suitable for use' due to increased accuracy and reduction of destructive power. If it really is meant to place an additional number of nuclear warheads in Europe beyond what is available, this can only aggravate the situation," Ulyanov said.
Moscow's statement comes in the wake of a report by the Air Force Times newspaper, saying that the US is planning to spend approximately $214 million on upgrading and building military structures and installations on its air bases in Eastern Europe, Norway and Iceland as part of the so-called European Deterrence Initiative (EDI).
While the EDI, formerly known as the European Reassurance Initiative initiated under the pretext of the Ukrainian crisis that erupted in 2014, which specifically implies the deployment of 3,000-5,000 NATO soldiers and equipment to European countries along Russia's borders to "deter" Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly criticized the alliance's buildup in eastern Europe, saying that it was provocative and could lead to regional and global destabilization.
Most recently, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance would maintain increased presence in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe "as long as necessary" after the alliance's members had agreed on instituting a new adaptive command structure to improve the alliance’s ability "to improve the movement of military forces across Europe."
Russia Commited to INF Treaty, Doesn't Aim to Exit it Unless Forced by US
Commenting on allegations of Moscow's violation of the INF Treaty, the high-ranking diplomat said that Russia is commited to the agreement and doesn't aim to exit it unless forced by the United States. "We proceed from the fact that the treaty continues to play an important role in ensuring European security and meets the interests of our country at this stage."
According to Ulyanov, NATO's recent statement, calling on Moscow to actively engage in dialogue with Washington on the implementation of the INF Treaty, "sounds rather cynical taking into the account that three authors of this statement are directly involved in INF treaty violations… This is the United States, as well as Romania and Poland which became complicit in violations by permitting the US side to place Mk 41 launch systems on their territory which should not be placed on land."
He went on to say that Washington's decision to finance the development of a new land-based cruise missile system deepens the rift with Russia over the INF Treaty that has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
"It is difficult for them [US officials] to understand that the means of pressure they are now trying to implement with respect to Russia in no way contribute to and will never contribute to finding solutions," the diplomat stressed.
Separately, the issue has been commented on by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who said that Moscow hopes that Washington would refrain from considering new sanctions in connection with alleged violations of the INF Treaty by Russia.
"There is no smoke without fire, and perhaps the US administration seriously weighs the possibility of applying additional sanction measures without any grounds whatsoever, simply acting on a logic that the pressure will force Russia to make concessions that the US needs so much, the logic that has never proved efficient and never will," Ryabkov stressed.
US President Donald Trump signed earlier in December a roughly $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, which stipulates allocation of $58 million on the development of a new conventional road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile system with a range of between 500 km (310 miles) to 5,500 km.
The 1987 INF Treaty prohibits the development, deployment and testing of ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.
Russia Supports Making Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Universal
Speaking about Pyongyang's nuclear issue, the diplomat stated, "Russia is in favor of making the CTBT [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty] universal. We call on all states, on which its entry into force depends, to sign and ratify this agreement, as we did many years ago. This fully applies to North Korea, as well as to the US and six other countries, especially since its joining the treaty is an indispensable condition for the entry of this agreement into force."
At the same time, according to Ulyanov, it is currently unrealistic to hope that North Korea will do so, because "Pyongyang considers its growing nuclear potential as a means to deter US hostile policies."
"It can be assumed that this issue will be resolved only within the framework of the settlement of the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula," Foreign Ministry's official added.
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly emphasized that Moscow opposes North Korea's possession of nukes, while calling on the parties involved to resort to diplomacy in order to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula that have further escalated this year amid Pyongyang's repeated missile launches, with the latest taking place on November 28, when the DPRK tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) yet, known as the Hwasong-15, capable of reaching any target within the mainland United States.
Amid the further deterioration of the situation on the Korean Peninsula this summer, Russia and China have proposed the so-called "double freeze" plan aimed at settling the crisis that urges Pyongyang to stop nuclear tests, while calling on Washington and Seoul to refrain from joint drills. While Moscow and Beijing have emphasized that the proposal is still on the table, the US has already rejected the plan.