U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says a mysterious accident last week in northern Russia that caused a temporary spike in radiation levels shows how hard the Kremlin is working to develop delivery systems for nuclear weapons.
In a wide-ranging interview with Voice of America (VOA) contributor Greta Van Susteren, Bolton said that “something has gone badly wrong here,” when asked about the August 8 accident during testing of a new propulsion system in the Arkhangelsk region that killed at least five and injured several others.
"Something obviously has gone badly wrong here, but it demonstrates that although Russia's economy is roughly the size of the Netherlands, it's still spending enough on defense to not only modernize their nuclear arsenal to build new kinds of delivery vehicles, hypersonic glide vehicles, hypersonic cruise missiles, largely stolen from American technology," he said in the August 14 interview.
"So, dealing with this capability and the possibility that other countries would get it too, remains a real challenge for the United States and its allies. No doubt about it," he added.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said the United States was "learning much" from the explosion, suggesting it occurred during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin bragged about last year.
Not much is known about the weapon, which Russia has said will have an "unlimited range."
Reuters quoted a senior Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity on August 13, as saying Washington was not prepared to say at this point whether it was a nuclear explosion but believed it did involve radioactive elements.
Norway's nuclear-safety authority said on August 15 that it was analyzing "tiny" amounts of radioactive iodine detected in the air in northern Norway shortly after the deadly explosion.
Fears of a renewed nuclear arms race have heightened since the United States on August 2 formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that was signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
Bolton said that Trump "hopes that the personal relationship he has [with Putin] will translate into something more" on several issues, including arms development.
"I do think there are common strategic interests, particularly dealing with the rising military power of China, and I've had conversations with the Russians on that score. I think there are more to come," Bolton added.
Bolton said that "the single greatest threat" in the world was nuclear proliferation, which is "why we've got to find a solution to North Korea and Iran."
Tensions between the United States and Iran have soared since May 2018, when Washington withdrew from the 2015 international nuclear deal that aimed to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since then, the Trump administration has imposed new and harsher sanctions on Iran's oil and financial sectors.
Bolton said that given the danger nuclear proliferation poses, it is up to the United States "to prevent other countries from thinking that, if those countries are able to get nuclear weapons, so can we."
"And let's be clear, nobody else is going to stop countries from getting nuclear weapons beside the United States," he said.
"If we're not able, by diplomacy or other means, to stop it, we're going to see a world in 30 or 40 years with many, many countries having nuclear weapons. That would be a substantial threat."
Iran claims its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.