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German foreign minister says ‘ball is in Russia’s court’ to save missile treaty

Germany said Wednesday that it was up to Russia to salvage a key Cold War arms treaty with days to go before the United States plans to start pulling out.

German foreign minister says 'ball is in Russia's court' to save missile treaty
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaking in Washington during U.S. visit. Photo: DPA

On a visit to Washington, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas appealed to both powers to save the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) but pointed the finger at Russia.

“The ball is still in Russia's court,” he told reporters after talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

While welcoming that Washington and Moscow had held talks, Maas criticized the existing Russian proposals as insufficient.

Russia “so far has not been willing to establish complete transparency,” Maas said. “Just looking at one missile won't be enough.”

The United States has declared Russia to be in violation of the treaty – which bans ground-launched missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

It last month gave a 60-day deadline, which ends on February 2nd, for Moscow to stop the alleged breach, saying that the United States otherwise will begin a six-month process of formally withdrawing from the treaty.

Russia denies that it is violating the treaty. At a briefing Wednesday in Moscow, Russia for the first time revealed the missile in question — the 9M729 — but insisted that its maximum range was 480 kilometers.

The EU has appealed for the preservation of the INF, one of the enduring security treaties in Europe, which was signed in the waning days of the Cold War by US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Until the February 2nd deadline, “all opportunities must be taken advantage of to pressure the Russian side into complying with the treaty again,” Maas said.

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RUSSIA

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.

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The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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