Russia Hits Back At US Over Withdrawal From Nuclear Treaty

Moscow attacks ‘dangerous’ Trump decision ahead of visit by John Bolton

Russia has warned US president Donald Trump that his plans to ditch a key nuclear arms-control agreement risk a military escalation and will strike a major blow against global security.

The proposed withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which helped end the cold war, was “a very dangerous step”, Russian officials said, as Nato allies in Europe warned against dismantling one of the continent’s major safeguards against conflict.

The INF treaty is one of the key pillars of global peacekeeping infrastructure and its potential collapse has sparked fears that other pacts, such as those restricting nuclear warheads, could also break apart.

Russia’s fierce backlash against Mr Trump’s plan came as John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser and a primary critic of the arms-control agreement, landed in Moscow for two days of talks amid rapidly souring relations between the two nuclear superpowers.

“Unlike our American colleagues, we understand all the seriousness of the issue and its significance for security and strategic stability,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said on Sunday.

“If the Americans continue to act as crudely . . . and unilaterally withdraw from all sorts of agreement and mechanisms from the Iran deal to the International Postal treaty, then we’ll be reduced to taking action in response, including of a military nature. But we don’t want to go that far.”

The sabre-rattling will further chill the atmosphere of Mr Bolton’s meetings, which are set to involve President Vladimir Putin, and will include a warning from the powerful White House aide that Russia not help Iran evade US sanctions preventing its exports of oil.

Mr Trump explained his decision on Saturday by claiming Russia had been violating the key arms control treaty for years, a charge Moscow denies. “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” the US president said, giving no timeline for withdrawal.

“We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” he said in reference to the INF accord.

Mr Ryabkov said the US had “no grounds to accuse Russia of supposedly violating the treaty”.

Signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF treaty banned all conventional and nuclear missiles with ranges between 500km and 5,500km, amid fears the Soviet Union’s missile programmes could threaten European capitals.

Over the past decade, the US has claimed that a number of new Russian missiles are in breach of the treaty, something Moscow denies. In turn, Russia claims that European parts of the US missile defence shield hosted by Nato allies, specifically the one operational base in Romania and another under construction in Poland, are similarly in breach of the treaty.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, said that while Europe had “frequently called on Russia in the past to address the serious charges that it is violating the INF treaty”, the US decision to withdraw was “regrettable”.

“The INF treaty . . . has been an important pillar of our European security architecture for 30 years. For us in Europe it is therefore of tremendous importance.”

Mr Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, said the US decision was a “mistake”.

“Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements,” he said, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. “Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?”

Analysts have also warned that because China is not a signatory to the current treaty, it leaves the US exposed to a potential build-up of missile capacity by Beijing.

Mr Trump said on Saturday that the US would consider capping its nuclear weapons development if it could make a new arrangement with both Russia and China. “But if Russia is doing it and if China is doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” he said.

Alexei Pushkov, a Russian senator, said Mr Trump’s statement was “returning the world to the cold war”.

“Such an exit would be the second most powerful blow inflicted on the world’s entire system of strategic stability,” he said. “The first blow was America’s withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2001. Once again, the initiator of the treaty withdrawal is the US.”

Gavin Williamson, UK defence secretary, blamed Russia for the breakdown, insisting that Britain stood “resolute” behind the US.

Mr Bolton, a Russia hawk, is due to meet senior Moscow officials on Monday to discuss the INF treaty and other subjects of contention between the two countries.

A senior administration official told reporters last week that the US was also looking at renegotiating another nuclear treaty between the US and Russia, the 2010 New Start treaty, which caps the number of nuclear warheads each country can have and is due for renewal in 2021.

“We don’t have a definitive US position yet, but there are several considerations including renegotiation,” said the official.

Source: Financial Times