Growing tensions between Russia and its former Soviet neighbors have increased the likelihood of a regional clash giving rise to a wider conflict that might involve nuclear strikes, Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov said on Thursday (see GSN, Nov. 16).
"The possibility of local armed conflicts virtually along the entire perimeter of the border has grown dramatically," Makarov told the Russian Public Chamber, which oversees the country's legislative activities. “I cannot rule out that, in certain circumstances, local and regional armed conflicts could grow into a large-scale war, possibly even with nuclear weapons.”
"Almost all countries formerly belonging to the Warsaw Pact have become NATO members, and the Baltic States that were earlier a part of the USSR have also joined the alliance,” Makarov said.
Separately, the general praised the New START pact, a U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty that took effect earlier this year (see GSN, Oct. 26).
"The previous START treaty was flawed, but there were attempts to extend it,” he said. “The New START is the first treaty that satisfies us.”
Meanwhile, Russia's envoy to NATO reaffirmed Moscow's call for the removal of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons from Europe, Interfax reported on Thursday (see GSN, July 20).
Approximately 200 gravity bombs are believed to be fielded in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey.
"Russia has the following position: we do not call tactical the U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. We call these weapons strategic; their status was an item of the negotiations, which preceded the signing of the New START Treaty," Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin told the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper.
"The ball is in the court of NATO and, in the first turn, the United States. It must remove its nuclear weapons from Europe. Russia did that a long time ago; our weapons are stationed on our territory and we cannot move them farther," Rogozin said.
The United States is unlikely to initiate removal of the weapons, and the matter might cause a division within NATO, he suggested.
"My forecast is that the issue will soon cause a split in the alliance. The Europeans do not understand why they have to bear environmental risks and the danger of terrorist attacks at U.S. nuclear sites. There is a mounting public opinion that it is time to close down NATO and create a European military bloc without the involvement, let alone dominance, of the United States," the envoy said.
"Meanwhile, tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are sort of an anchor for the United States, and it will never abandon such weapons even if supporters of a lesser U.S. presence in the world win the election," he said (Interfax, Nov. 17).