Moscow angered by US plan to site long-range missiles in Germany

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A US announcement of a plan to station long-range missiles in Germany for the first time since the cold war has set off a diplomatic furore between Washington and Moscow and elicited comparisons to the European missile crises of the 1980s.

Russian and US officials both accused each other of provoking the escalation on Thursday, as arms control experts warned that the deployments of missiles on the European continent, after the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, could fuel a new arms race.

The decision to station non-nuclear Tomahawk cruise, SM-6 and hypersonic missiles in Germany from 2026 was welcomed by Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who said it “fitted exactly” into his government’s security strategy, even as the move attracted fierce criticism amid fears it would make Germany more vulnerable to attack.

Scholz said the decision had been long in the making and would come as “no surprise” to anyone who was knowledgable about security and peace policies.

But Moscow did not see it that way. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov issued a stark warning to Berlin, insisting Moscow would respond militarily to the decision, which aimed to impair Russian security and could not go unanswered.

He said that Nato was now “fully involved in the conflict” and called the move “just another link in the chain of a course of escalation”.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Russian government, called the planned move “a very serious threat” to Russia, which would be closely analysed by Moscow, which would “take thoughtful, coordinated and effective measures to contain Nato”.

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, shot back: “What we are deploying to Germany is a defensive capability. Like many other defensive capabilities we’ve deployed across the alliance across the decades.

“More Russian sabre-rattling is not going to deter us from doing what we think is necessary to keep the alliance as strong as possible.”

But some members of the arms control community sounded alarmed.

Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), wrote: “First Russia develops/fields an INF missile in violation of treaty. Then US withdraws from treaty and deploys INF missiles as well. Then Russia will respond by deploying more INF missiles. Then … Does anyone have a plan here or is everyone on autopilot?”

Support for the move in Germany – which will see Tomahawk cruise missiles, which are fireable from ships or submarines, SM-6 and hypersonic weapons stationed on German soil from 2026, as agreed at the Nato conference in Washington this week – was measured, with some welcoming it and others warning it would endanger German security.

Germany’s defence minister, Boris Pistorius, said that to be taken seriously Germany needed to flesh out a longer-term vision that was not dependent on the US, arguing that the agreement was too temporary, even if in line with Nato’s attempts to protect Ukraine and deter Russia. Germany he said, needed a longer-term plan for investment in “appropriate long-range defence systems”, to protect itself and Europe.

Pistorius is pushing for an increase of several billion euros to his defence budget, this week calling the amount of €58bn promised to him inadequate. “Everything which we fail to invest in deterrence and defence capabilities now will come back to haunt us in future years,” he told German radio DLF on Thursday

The cruise missile agreement has met stiff opposition from many politicians in Germany, while some members of Scholz’s three-way government have called for more clarity over it.

Critics have argued it is a hugely backward step in attempts to reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals. Ground-based missiles with a range beyond 500km were forbidden until 2019 under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty between Moscow and Washington in 1987.

The German opposition politician Sahra Wagenknecht, of the newly founded far-left party BSW, said that the stationing of attack missiles on German soil would not increase the country’s security but rather “increase the risk that Germany itself will become a theatre of war, with terrible consequences for everyone living here”.

Dietmar Bartsch, defence spokesperson for the far-left Die Linke, warned of a new armaments war. “I find this decision highly problematic, because the spiral in military buildup is being turned further under the headline ‘deterrence’,” he said.

The far-right populist AfD leader, Tino Chrupalla, said the shift in policy could turn Germany into a target for Russia, criticising Scholz for “letting Germany’s relationship with Russia be permanently damaged”.

He praised Hungary’s president, Viktor Orbán – who recently visited Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in an attempt, according to Orbán , to forge a peace agreement between Moscow and Kyiv – saying Scholz could learn from him.

“Orbán … showed at the Nato summit how sovereign peace policy works in Europe. He wants to prevent his country from being drawn into the US conflict with Russia,” Chrupalla said.

Meanwhile the Green party, part of Scholz’s government, demanded answers from him about details of the plan, including how it would be financed.

Sara Nanni, spokesperson for the party’s parliamentary group, told the Rheinische Post she found it irritating that Scholz had yet to provide such details, “even though a clear classification” was “urgently needed”.

Support for Scholz came in particular from the main opposition Christian Democrats, whose foreign policy spokesperson, Jürgen Hardt, said the stationing of Tomahawks in Germany was a service to German security.

Joachim Krause, a political scientist and international policy expert, told DLF the presence of the cruise missiles would act as an effective deterrent, which could “considerably increase the military balance in favour of Nato”.

In case of an attack by Russia, Krausesaid, the weapons would also have the capability of penetrating deep into Russian territory. The planned stationing of hypersonic missiles in Germany would have a similar effect in sending the right message to Moscow, he suggested.

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