Putin to U.S.: I’m ready for another Cuban Missile crisis if you want one

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is militarily ready for a Cuban Missile-style crisis if the United States is foolish enough to want one and that his country currently has the edge when it comes to a first nuclear strike.

The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in 1962 when Moscow responded to a U.S. missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

More than five decades on, tensions are rising again over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a landmark Cold war-era arms control treaty unravels.

Putin’s comments, made to Russian media late on Wednesday, follow his warning that Moscow will match any U.S. move to deploy new missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States or by deploying faster missiles or both.

Putin fleshed out his warning in detail for the first time, saying Russia could deploy hypersonic missiles on ships and submarines which could lurk outside U.S. territorial waters if Washington now moved to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

“(We’re talking about) naval delivery vehicles: submarines or surface ships. And we can put them, given the speed and range (of our missiles)… in neutral waters. Plus they are not stationary, they move and they will have to find them,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

“You work it out. Mach nine (the speed of the missiles) and over 1,000 km (their range).”

TREATY VIOLATIONS

The U.S. State Department dismissed Putin’s earlier warning as propaganda, saying it was designed to divert attention from what Washington alleges are Moscow’s violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The pact, which banned Russia and the United States from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe, is in its death throes, raising the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has said he does not want an arms race with the United States, but that he would have no choice but to act if Washington deployed new missiles in Europe, some of which he says would be able to strike Moscow within 10-12 minutes.

Putin said his naval response to such a move would mean Russia could strike the United States faster than U.S. missiles deployed in Europe could hit Moscow because the flight time would be shorter.

“It (the calculation) would not be in their favor, at least as things stand today. That’s for sure.” said Putin.

Relations between Moscow and Washington were strained, he added, but the tensions were not comparable to those of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“They (the tensions) are not a reason to ratchet up confrontation to the levels of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. In any case that’s not what we want,” said Putin. “If someone wants that, well OK they are welcome. I have set out today what that would mean. Let them count (the missile flight times).”

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

NATO sounds alarm on banned Russian missile system

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO allies on Friday publicly raised concern about a Russian cruise missile system that the alliance says may break a Cold War-era pact banning such weapons, in a show of support for Washington.

The United States believes Russia is developing a ground-launched cruise missile system with a range that is prohibited by a 1987 treaty, which could give Russia the ability to launch a nuclear strike on Europe on short notice.

“Allies have identified a Russian missile system that raises serious concerns,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation said in a statement. “NATO urges Russia to address these concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and actively engage in a technical dialogue with the United States.”

In a separate statement, the U.S. envoy to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said: “Russia’s behavior raises serious concerns.”

Russia has denied it is violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

U.S.-led NATO’s concerns are likely to further strain relations between Moscow and the West that are already at a low over Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, Western sanctions on the Russian economy and U.S. accusations that Moscow used computer hackers to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Moscow denies that it interfered in the election.

The NATO statement follows a meeting between Russia and the United States in Geneva this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union.

According to an April U.S. State Department report, Washington determined in 2016 that Russia was in violation of its treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,417 miles), “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Last week, the State Department said it is reviewing military options, including new intermediate-range cruise missile systems, the first response by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to the U.S. charges.

The Russian foreign ministry said last week it was ready for talks with the United States to try to preserve the treaty and would comply with its obligations if the United States did.

In a statement marking the 30th anniversary of the IMF treaty last week, the Russian foreign ministry said Moscow considered “the language of ultimatums” and sanctions unacceptable.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean)

Hypothetically speaking, U.S. Admiral says ready for nuclear strike on China if Trump so ordered

FILE PHOTO: Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Scott Swift sits in front of a large poster of an Australian Navy frigate as he speaks during a media conference at the 2015 Pacific International Maratime Exposition in Sydney, Australia, October 6, 2015. To match Special Report USA-TRUMP/CARRIERS REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, addressing a security conference in Australia, said in answer to a question on Thursday that he would be prepared to launch a nuclear strike on China if President Donald Trump so ordered.

The fleet spokesman later said the question was asked as an “outrageous hypothetical”.

Admiral Scott Swift was speaking at the Australian National University in Canberra when he was asked whether he would be prepared to launch a nuclear attack on China if ordered to do so by Trump.

“The answer would be yes,” he said.

Swift said that all members of the U.S. military had sworn an oath to obey officers and the U.S. president as commander in chief to defend the constitution.

“This is core to the American democracy,” he said, in a recording of the event obtained by Reuters.

“Any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus, and an allegiance, to civilian control, then we really have significant problems.”

Swift’s answer reaffirmed the principle of civilian control over the military and was based on an “outrageous hypothetical” in the question, Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Charlie Brown told Reuters.

“Frankly, the premise of the question was ridiculous,” he said. “It was posed as an outrageous hypothetical, but the admiral simply took it as an opportunity to say the fact is that we have civilian control of the military and we abide by that principle.”

Speaking in Beijing on Friday, a spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry also downplayed the remark.

“Many people have paid attention to this but the spokesman for the Pacific Fleet has pointed out the ridiculousness of this report,” Lu Kang told a daily news briefing.

The United States and China enjoy a generally friendly relationship, with strong economic ties, albeit with frequent barbs about trade, jobs, currencies, human rights, Tibet, the South China Sea and North Korea.

Trump has held high hopes for greater cooperation from China to exert influence over North Korea, leaning heavily on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his assistance. The two leaders had a high-profile summit in Florida in April and Trump has frequently praised Xi.

(Reporting by Colin Packham in SYDNEY and Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; Additional reporting by Philip Wen in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

North Korea, if left unchecked, on ‘inevitable’ path to nuclear ICBM: U.S.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats (L) and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea, if left unchecked, is on an “inevitable” path to obtaining a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the United States, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The remarks are the latest indication of mounting U.S. concern about Pyongyang’s advancing missile and nuclear weapons programs, which the North says are needed for self-defense.

U.S. lawmakers pressed Stewart and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to estimate how far away North Korea was from obtaining an intercontinental ballistic missile(ICBM) that could reach the United States.

They repeatedly declined to offer an estimate, saying that doing so would reveal U.S. knowledge about North Korea’s capabilities, but Stewart warned the panel the risk was growing.

“If left on its current trajectory the regime will ultimately succeed in fielding a nuclear-armed missile capable of threatening the United States homeland,” Stewart said.

“While nearly impossible to predict when this capability will be operational, the North Korean regime is committed and is on a pathway where this capability is inevitable.”

The U.N. Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss Sunday’s test of a solid-fuel Pukguksong-2 missile, which defies Security Council resolutions and sanctions. The meeting was called at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea.

INTELLIGENCE GAPS

John Schilling, a missile expert contributing to Washington’s 38 North think tank, estimated it would take until at least 2020 for North Korea to be able to develop an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and until 2025 for one powered by solid fuel.

But Coats acknowledged gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea and the thinking of its leader Kim Jong Un.

He cited technological factors complicating U.S. intelligence gathering, including gaps in U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), which rely on assets like spy satellites and drone aircraft.

“We do not have constant, consistent ISR capabilities and so there are gaps, and the North Koreans know about these,” Coats said.

Washington has been trying to persuade China to agree to new sanctions on North Korea, which has conducted dozens of missile firings and tested two nuclear bombs since the start of last year.

New data on Tuesday showed China raised its imports of iron ore from North Korea in April to the highest since August 2014 but bought no coal for a second month after Beijing halted coal shipments from its increasingly isolated neighbor.

U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible over its weapons programs, although U.S. officials say tougher sanctions, not military force, are the preferred option.

Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, said on Friday any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

North Korea state media warns of nuclear strike if provoked as U.S. warships approach

A general view of an annual central report meeting in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang April 9, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

By Sue-Lin Wong

PYONGYANG (Reuters) – North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of U.S. aggression as a U.S. Navy strike group steamed towards the western Pacific.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has urged China to do more to rein in its impoverished neighbour, said in a Tweet North Korea was “looking for trouble” and the United States would “solve the problem” with or without China’s help.

Tension has escalated sharply on the Korean peninsula with talk of military action by the United States gaining traction following its strikes last week against Syria and amid concerns the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the country was prepared to respond to any aggression by the United States.

“Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the U.S. invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the U.S. mainland,” it said.

South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn warned of “greater provocations” by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring and to ensure close communication with the United States.

“It is possible the North may wage greater provocations such as a nuclear test timed with various anniversaries including the Supreme People’s Assembly,” said Hwang, acting leader since former president Park Geun-hye was removed amid a graft scandal.

Trump said in a Tweet a trade deal between China and the United States would be “far better for them if they solved the North Korea problem”.

“If China decides to help, that would be great,” he said. “If not, we will solve the problem without them!”

Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met in Florida last week and Trump pressed Xi to do more to rein in North Korea.

The North convened a Supreme People’s Assembly session on Tuesday, one of its twice-yearly sessions in which major appointments are announced and national policy goals are formally approved. It did not immediately release details.

But South Korean officials took pains to quell talk in social media of an impending security crisis or outbreak of war.

“We’d like to ask precaution so as not to get blinded by exaggerated assessment about the security situation on the Korean peninsula,” Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said.

Saturday is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founding father and grandfather of current ruler, Kim Jong Un.

A military parade is expected in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, to mark the day. North Korea often also marks important anniversaries with tests of its nuclear or missile capabilities in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Men and women in colourful outfits were singing and dancing on the streets of Pyongyang, illuminated by better lighting than that seen in previous years, apparently practising for the parade planned.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent a message of congratulations to mark the event, lambasting “big powers” for their “expansionist” policy.

“The friendly two countries are celebrating this anniversary and, at the same time, conducting a war against big powers’ wild ambition to subject all countries to their expansionist and dominationist policy and deprive them of their rights to self-determination,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted the message as saying.

The North’s foreign ministry, in a statement carried by KCNA, said the U.S. navy strike group’s approach showed America’s “reckless moves for invading had reached a serious phase”.

“We never beg for peace but we will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms and keep to the road chosen by ourselves,” an unidentified ministry spokesman said.

North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.

RUSSIAN WORRIES

North Korea is emerging as one of the most pressing foreign policy problems facing the Trump administration.

The North has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

The Trump administration is reviewing its policy towards North Korea and has said all options are on the table, including military strikes, but U.S. officials said non-military action appeared to be at the top of the list.

Russia’s foreign ministry, in a statement ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said it was concerned about many aspects of U.S. foreign policy, particularly on North Korea.

“We are really worried about what Washington has in mind for North Korea after it hinted at the possibility of a unilateral military scenario,” the ministry said.

“It’s important to understand how that would tally with collective obligations on de-nuclearising the Korean peninsula, something that is underpinned in U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Russia condemned U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base on Friday, calling them an illegal attack on a sovereign state.

The U.S. Navy strike group Carl Vinson was diverted from port calls to Australia and would move towards the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, a U.S. official told Reuters on the weekend.

U.S. officials said the strike group would take more than a week to reach waters near the Korean peninsula.

China and South Korea agreed on Monday to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea if it carried out nuclear or long-range missile tests, a senior official in Seoul said.

On Tuesday, a fleet of North Korean cargo ships was heading home, most of the vessels fully laden, after China ordered its trading companies to return the coal to curb the trade, sources with direct knowledge of the trade said.

The order was given on April 7, just as Trump and Xi were set for the summit where they agreed the North Korean nuclear advances had reached a “very serious stage”, Tillerson said.

Following repeated missile tests that drew international criticism, China banned all imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off the country’s most important export product.

The North is seen ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test at any time, with movements detected by satellite at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul, Idrees Ali in Washington and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)