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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Russia says US nuclear treaty withdrawal would be 'very' dangerous'

National Security Adviser John Bolton has been pushing Trump to pull out of the deal

A Russian tactical missile Iskander-M launching during military exercises outside St Petersburg region, 18 September 2017. EPA
A Russian tactical missile Iskander-M launching during military exercises outside St Petersburg region, 18 September 2017. EPA

Russia has called the decision by US President Donald Trump to exit a cold war-era weapons treaty dangerous and says the withdrawal is liable to attract retaliation.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, prohibited the US and Russia from possessing land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 km. Its ratification led to the destruction of US Pershing and Cruise Missiles and Soviet SS-20 missiles in Russia.

The treaty formed part of a series of arms controls measures credited with easing the threat of war between the two superpowers but in recent years has been dogged by accusations of violations by both countries.

National Security Adviser John Bolton, a long-standing opponent of arms control treaties, has been pushing Trump to pull out of the deal. The US believes that a recently developed Russian missile, the 9M729, has a range of over 500 km, which would breach the INF’s restrictions.

“Russia has not, unfortunately, honoured the agreement so we're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out," President Trump told reporters on Saturday after a rally in Nevada.

President Trump said his intention to scrap the landmark arms control agreement followed years of violations by Moscow in developing proscribed weapons. Then-President Barack Obama first accused Russia of violating the INF in 2015 but didn’t act. Russia also accuses the US of violating the agreement.

Britain said it stood “absolutely resolute” with the US, while Germany called the decision “regrettable”.

In response to President Trump’s announcement, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Saturday that a unilateral US withdrawal would lead to a “military-technical” retaliation.

Without specifying what Russian retaliation would look like, he said withdrawal "would be a very dangerous step", adding that it was Washington and not Moscow that was failing to comply with the treaty.

He said the Trump administration was attempting to use the INF to blackmail the Kremlin, putting global security at risk. "We will, of course, accept no ultimatums or blackmail methods," he said.

"But we would rather things did not get that far."

A Kremlin spokesman said Russian President Vladimir Putin would seek answers about the planned withdrawal when he meets Mr Bolton for scheduled talks in Moscow this week.

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President Trump said the United States will develop new weapons unless Russia and China agree to a halt on development. “We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he said, “unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let's really get smart and let's none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia's doing it and if China's doing it, and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable.”

US arms controls opponents argue that INF limits the US while China, which is not a party, invests heavily in medium-range missiles that could threaten US bases, allies and shipping in the Pacific.

Mr Bolton is also opposed to the extension of another major pillar of arms control, the new START treaty, which limits the number of deployed strategic warheads. The agreement is due to expire in 2021.

British defence minister Gavin Williamson told the Financial Times that he supported President Trump’s decision, arguing that the Kremlin was making a mockery of the treaty.

Germany Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas said in a statement on Sunday that the INF is "an important pillar of our European security architecture."

He said that Germany had repeatedly urged Moscow to "clear up the serious allegations of breaching the INF treaty, which Russia has so far not done."

But he expressed misgivings over President Trump's announcement, which "raises difficult questions for us and Europe”.

“We now urge the United States to consider the possible consequences.”