White House National Security Advisor John Bolton on Monday began two days of meetings with senior Russian officials following Washington’s weekend announcement of its withdrawal from a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty.
The Moscow visit by Bolton was planned before the Saturday announcement by President Donald Trump that the US was ditching the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF, a move Moscow has already denounced as “dangerous.”
The treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who on Sunday said that “dropping these agreements… shows a lack of wisdom” and was a “mistake”.
Bolton arrived in Russia Sunday and is set to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On Monday morning he met his Russian counterpart, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
On Tuesday he may also speak about the treaty with President Vladimir Putin, according to Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said the Russian leader was looking for “clarifications” about US intentions.
Peskov told journalists Monday that ditching the treaty “will make the world more dangerous” and rejected the US claims Moscow has violated the pact, instead accusing Washington of doing so.
“It is the United States that is eroding the foundations and main elements of this pact” with its missile defence capabilities and drones, he said.
But Trump on Saturday claimed Russia had long violated the treaty.
“We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honoured the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honoured the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” he told reporters.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” he said.
“And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to.”
The 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 of between 310 and 3,400 miles (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”.
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 Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.
The US plan to withdraw from the INF is also targeting China. As a non-signatory, Beijing can develop intermediate-range nuclear weapons without constraints.
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The two countries are also at odds over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday, the US Justice Department indicted the finance chief of Russia’s leading internet troll farm for allegedly interfering with US congressional elections to be held in November.
Russia accused the United States of fabricating the charges.
While no new summit between Trump and Putin has yet been announced, one is expected in the near future.
The two leaders will be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking 100 years since the end of World War I.