This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The U.S. withdrawal from a landmark nuclear arms control treaty could make the world “more dangerous” and force Moscow to take steps to restore the balance of power, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov laid out what he said were Russian concerns on October 22, two days after President Donald Trump declared that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
European allies of the United States also expressed concern, and the European Union’s executive commission urged Washington and Moscow to negotiate to “preserve this treaty.”
Peskov said Russia wants to hear “some kind of explanation” of the U.S. plans from Trump’s national-security adviser, John Bolton, who is meeting with senior officials in Moscow on October 22-23.
“This is a question of strategic security. And I again repeat: such intentions are capable of making making the world more dangerous,” Peskov said.
If the United States abandons the pact and develops weapons that it prohibited, Russia “will need to take action…to restore balance in this area,” he said.
The INF treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying medium-range, ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.
Peskov said that the United States has taken no formal steps to withdraw from the treaty as yet.
Bolton met with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of President Vladimir Putin’s Security Council, on October 22. He was expected to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the same day and with Putin on October 23.
Bolton and Patrushev were discussing “a wide range of issues [involving] international security and Russian-American cooperation in the sphere of security,” Russian Security Council spokesman Yevgeny Anoshin said.
Ahead of the meetings, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also said Russia hopes Bolton will clarify the U.S. position on the treaty.
Earlier, Ryabkov said a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the INF would be “very dangerous” and lead to a “military-technical” retaliation — wording that refers to weapons and suggests that Russia could take steps to develop or deploy new arms.
Both France and Germany also voiced concern.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump on October 21 and “underlined the importance of this treaty, especially with regards to European security and our strategic stability,” Macron’s office said in a statement on October 22.
Many U.S. missiles banned by the INF had been deployed in Europe as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, but Macron’s remark underscores what analysts says would be resistance in many NATO countries to such deployments now.
European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters that the United States and Russia “need to remain in a constructive dialogue to preserve this treaty and ensure it is fully and verifiably implemented.”
The German government regrets the U.S. plan to withdraw, spokesman Steffen Seibert said on October 22, adding that “NATO partners must now consult on the consequences of the American decision.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said a day earlier that Trump’s announcement “raises difficult questions for us and Europe,” but added that Russia had not convincingly addressed the allegations that it had violated the treaty.
China criticized the United States, saying on October 22 that a unilateral withdrawal would have negative consequences and urging Washington to handle the issue “prudently.”
“The document has an important role in developing international relations, in nuclear disarmament, and in maintaining global strategic balance and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said when asked about Trump’s comments.
U.S. officials have said Russia has been developing such a missile for years, and Washington made its accusations public in 2014.
Russia has repeatedly denied the U.S. accusations and also alleged that some elements of the U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe were in violation of the agreement. Washington denies that.
The INF, agreed four years before the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire class of missiles.
“Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters on October 20 during a campaign stop in the state of Nevada.
The United States is “not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons [when] we’re not allowed to,” Trump said.
The announcement brought sharp criticism from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty in 1987 with U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Gorbachev, 87, told the Interfax news agency that the move showed a “lack of wisdom” in Washington.
“Getting rid of the treaty is a mistake,” he said, adding that leaders “absolutely must not tear up old agreements on disarmament.”
Reactions were mixed in the West.
In Britain, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said his country stands “absolutely resolute” with Washington on the issue and called on the Kremlin to “get its house in order.”
U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, criticized Bolton, and said on Fox News that he believes the national-security adviser was behind the decision to withdraw from the treaty.
“I don’t think he recognizes the important achievement of Reagan and Gorbachev on this,” Paul said.
Bolton has been a critic of a number of treaties including arms control pacts.
Many U.S. critics of Trump’s promise to withdraw say that doing so now hands a victory to Russia because Moscow, despite evidence that it is violating the treaty, can blame the United States for its demise.
Critics also charge that withdrawing from the pact will not improve U.S. securityand could undermine it.
Aside from the INF dispute, other issues are raising tensions between Moscow and Washington at the time of Bolton’s visit, including Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria as well as alleged Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.
Lavrov said on October 22 that Russia would welcome talks with the United States on extending the 2010 New START treaty, which limits numbers of Russian and U.S. long-range nuclear weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, beyond its 2021 expiration date.
Meanwhile, Peskov, when asked to comment on remarks Putin made on October 18, said Russian president had stated that Moscow would not launch a nuclear strike unless it was attacked with nuclear weapons or targeted in a conventional attack that threatened its existence.