NATO agrees response to new Russia missile

NATO says Russia's mobile 9M729 cruise missile can hit European capitals with nuclear warheads in a matter of minutes (AFP Photo/Vasily MAXIMOV )

Brussels (AFP) - NATO on Wednesday agreed a package of political and military measures to boost its defences against a controversial new Russian missile system.

The alliance will review its air and missile defences, along with its intelligence and surveillance programmes, unless Moscow abandons its 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles by August 2.

The US and NATO say Russia is breaching the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with the missile and endangering peace in Europe.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia still had a chance to save the the landmark Cold War arms control pact.

"There's a window of opportunity. Time is running out but it is still possible for Russia to save the INF treaty," Stoltenberg told reporters at a meeting of NATO defence ministers.

"If they don't come back into compliance before August 2 then they have to bear the full responsibility for the demise of the treaty."

After years of complaining to Russia about the missile, the US announced in February it would pull out of the INF on August 2 unless Moscow gave it up.

A meeting of the NATO-Russia Council has been called next week as a last-ditch attempt to save the deal, but there is little expectation of Russia backing down.

Moscow for its part insists the missile complies with the INF and has made counter-accusations against the US.

A number of European allies are keen to use every last moment to try to save the INF, which is seen as a cornerstone of global arms control, but defence ministers agreed to prepare measures in case the efforts fail.

"We have agreed on a wide range of measures: political measures, military measures, exercises, missile defence, conventional and any others," Stoltenberg said.

"Some of them will be long term, others it will be possible to implement short term or more concretely."

Because it is launched from mobile batteries, NATO says the missile is hard to detect and it can hit capital cities across Europe with nuclear warheads in a matter of minutes, lowering the threshold for conflict.

Stoltenberg said there was no sign of Russia giving up the 9M279 -- on the contrary, he accused Moscow of continuing to deploy it.

Earlier this year the 29 NATO countries publicly backed Washington's assessment that the nuclear-capable missile violates the INF, which banned ground launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (300 to 3,400 miles).