Moscow on Sunday warned U.S. President Donald Trump that his plan to ditch the Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty with Russia was a dangerous step. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that withdrawal "would be a very dangerous step" and said Washington faced international condemnation in its bid for "total supremacy" in the military sphere.
He insisted that Moscow had observed "in the strictest way" the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF, while accusing Washington of "flagrant violations". He added that President Vladimir Putin had repeatedly said that the demise of the treaty would force Russia to take specific steps to protect its own security.
Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton is in Moscow and met with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that President Vladimir Putin may also meet Bolton to seek "clarifications" over U.S. President Donald trump’s statement that accuses Russia of violating the treaty.
Bolton himself is pressuring Trump to leave the INF and has blocked talks to extend the New Start treaty on strategic missiles set to expire in 2021, according to The Guardian newspaper. U.S. withdrawal from the INF "will destroy any prospects of extending the New Start treaty," the head of the Russian Senate's foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev warned on Facebook.
This new row comes ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between Trump and Putin this year. The Trump administration has complained of Moscow's deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty's ban on missiles that can travel distances between 500 and 5,500 kilometres.
The INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals. The latest rift could have "the most lamentable consequences", political analyst Alexei Arbatov told Interfax news agency, dragging Russia into a "new cycle of the arms race".
A Russian foreign ministry official earlier accused Washington of implementing policy "toward dismantling the nuclear deal". For many years, Washington has been "deliberately and step by step destroying the basis for the agreement," said the unnamed official quoted by state news agencies.
The official accused the United States of backing out of international agreements that put it on an equal footing with other countries because it wanted to protect American "exceptionalism".
Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter that the move was "the second powerful blow against the whole system of strategic stability in the world" after Washington's 2001 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
The U.S. plan to withdraw from the INF is also targeting China. As a non-signatory, Beijing can develop intermediate-range nuclear weapons without constraints. If a new deal is negotiated, it would likely include Beijing as well. (With Agency Inputs)