White House national security adviser John Bolton leaves on a trip to Russia and the Caucasus on October 20 amid reports that Washington is moving toward withdrawing from a bedrock Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty that it has accused Russia of violating.
The New York Times reported on October 19 that Bolton plans to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Trump administration is preparing to leave the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), negotiated by former President Ronald Reagan during the waning days of the Soviet Union.
Despite the threat, the newspaper said no final decision had been made on withdrawing from the treaty. White House officials did not deny The New York Times report.
The newspaper said the United States believes Russia is violating the deal by deploying tactical nuclear weapons in places like Russia's Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea to intimidate former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe that have joined the Western bloc.
Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reported that Bolton recently recommended that Trump withdraw from the treaty.
In 2014, Washington publicly accused Moscow of developing a ground-launched cruise missile that U.S. officials said was in direct violation of the 1987 agreement because it could allow Moscow to launch a nuclear strike on Europe on short notice. The U.S. State Department later said Moscow had begun deploying the missile.
Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Russia’s violation of the INF treaty was "untenable" and, unless it changed course, the United States would respond.
"Across two administrations, the United States and our allies have attempted to bring Russia back into full and verifiable compliance with INF," a senior administration official told reporters in Washington on October 19. "Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency."
Russia, for its part, has repeatedly denied the U.S. accusations, and also has alleged that some elements of the U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe are in violation of the agreement.
The treaty, signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was the first arms control agreement to eliminate an entire class of missiles.
During his visit to Moscow, Bolton is also expected to broach other major topics with Russian officials, including North Korea, Ukraine, and Syria.
He said in a tweet on October 19 that he will start his visit meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Russian news agencies reported that the Kremlin is also arranging a meeting with Putin during the trip.
While in Moscow, Bolton will emphasize the importance of maintaining UN sanctions against North Korea to keep pressure on Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons program. Russia and China have suggested easing sanctions.
Bolton will later travel to Azerbaijan for discussions on a range of regional issues, including Iran, before continuing to Armenia and Georgia.