The warning from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov raised the risk of a new arms build-up on the continent, with East-West tensions at their worst since the Cold War ended three decades ago.

Ryabkov said Russia would be forced to act if the West declined to join it in a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe – part of a package of security guarantees it is seeking as the price for defusing the crisis over Ukraine.

Lack of progress towards a political and diplomatic solution would lead Russia to respond in a military way, with military technology, Ryabkov told Russia’s RIA news agency.

“That is, it will be a confrontation, this will be the next round,” he said, referring to the potential deployment of the missiles by Russia.

Intermediate-range nuclear weapons – those with a range of 500 to 5,500 km (310 to 3,400 miles) – were banned in Europe under a 1987 treaty between then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in what was hailed at the time as a major easing of Cold War tensions. By 1991, the two sides had destroyed nearly 2,700 of them.

Washington withdrew from the pact in 2019 after complaining for years of alleged violations revolving around Russia’s development of a ground-launched cruise missile that Moscow calls the 9M729 and NATO refers to as the “Screwdriver”.

If NATO is right that Russia has already deployed this system in the European part of the country, west of the Ural Mountains, then Ryabkov’s threat is an empty one, according to Gerhard Mangott, an expert on Russian foreign policy and arms control at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But if Russia’s denials are true, he said, then Moscow’s warning is “the final signal to NATO that it should enter into talks with Russia about a freeze-freeze agreement.”

He added: “If NATO sticks with the position not to negotiate about a deal, then we will certainly see Russia deploy the Screwdriver missile at its very western border.”