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Bolton Says U.S. Not Blackmailing Russia With INF Pullout Pledge


U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton (left) shakes hands with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev during a meeting in Moscow on October 22.

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton has denied Russian allegations the United States is threatening to withdraw from a nuclear arms treaty in an attempt to blackmail Moscow over what Washington says is a new medium-range nuclear missile being developed by Russia.

Bolton was quoted as making the comment late on October 22 after talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- two days after President Donald Trump declared that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Bolton also said Washington has not yet made any decision to deploy missiles in Europe targeting Moscow if the Trump administration scraps the 1987 treaty.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Lavrov and Bolton on October 22 discussed “the prospect of interaction between our countries, including in the interests of settling regional conflicts, effectively fighting against terrorism, and the maintenance of strategic stability.”

Earlier on October 22, Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that a U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty could make the world "more dangerous" and force Moscow to take steps to restore the balance of power.

European allies of the United States also have expressed concern and the European Union's Executive Commission urged Washington and Moscow to negotiate to "preserve this treaty."

Peskov said Russia wants to hear "some kind of explanation" of the U.S. plans from Bolton, who was expected to meet on October 23 with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu before heading into talks with President Vladimir Putin.

"This is a question of strategic security. And I again repeat: such intentions are capable of making the world more dangerous," Peskov said.

"Any action in this area will be met with a counteraction, because the strategic stability can only be ensured on the basis of parity," Lavrov said on October 22 before his talks with Bolton. "Such parity will be secured under all circumstances. We bear a responsibility for global stability and we expect the United States not to shed its share of responsibility either."

The INF treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.

Peskov repeated Russian denials of U.S. accusations that Moscow is in violation of the treaty and said that the United States has taken no formal steps to withdraw from the pact as yet.

Before meeting with Lavrov on October 22, Bolton also met with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Putin's Security Council.

Russian Security Council spokesman Yevgeny Anoshin said Bolton and Patrushev discussed "a wide range of issues [involving] international security and Russian-American cooperation in the sphere of security."

Ahead of the meetings, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also said Russia hoped Bolton would clarify the U.S. position on the treaty.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump on October 21 and "underlined the importance of this treaty, especially with regards to European security and our strategic stability," Macon's office said in a statement on October 22.

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters the United States and Russia "need to remain in a constructive dialogue to preserve this treaty and ensure it is fully and verifiably implemented."

The German government regrets the U.S. plan to withdraw, spokesman Steffen Seibert said on October 22, adding that "NATO partners must now consult on the consequences of the American decision."

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbatchev Gorbachev (left) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sign the INF treaty in Washington in December 1987.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbatchev Gorbachev (left) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sign the INF treaty in Washington in December 1987.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said a day earlier that Trump's announcement "raises difficult questions for us and Europe," but added that Russia has not convincingly addressed the allegations that it had violated the treaty.

U.S. officials say Russia has been developing a nuclear-capable missile system known as 9M729 for years in violation of the INF treaty. Washington made its accusations public in 2014.

Russia denies the U.S. accusations and claims that some elements of the U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe violate the INF treaty -- a charge that Washington denies.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on October 22 that "in the absence of any credible answer from Russia on this new missile, allies believe that the most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty."

The INF, agreed four years before the Soviet Union's collapse, was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire class of missiles.

“Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters on October 20 during a campaign stop in the state of Nevada.

The United States is "not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons [when] we're not allowed to," Trump said.

The announcement brought sharp criticism from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty in 1987 with U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

"Getting rid of the treaty is a mistake" that would reflect a "lack of wisdom" in Washington, said Gorbachev, 87, adding that leaders "absolutely must not tear up old agreements on disarmament."

In Britain, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said on October 21 that his country stands "absolutely resolute" with Washington on the issue and called on the Kremlin to "get its house in order."

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (Republican-Kentucky) criticized Bolton, and said on Fox News he believes the national security adviser was behind the decision to withdraw from the treaty.

"I don't think he recognizes the important achievement of Reagan and Gorbachev on this," Paul said.

Bolton has been a critic of a number of treaties including arms-control pacts.

Many U.S. critics of Trump's promise to withdraw say that doing so now hands a victory to Russia because Moscow, despite evidence that it is violating the treaty, can blame the United States for its demise.

Critics also charge that withdrawing from the pact will not improve U.S. security and could undermine it.

Aside from the INF dispute, other issues are raising tensions between Moscow and Washington at the time of Bolton's visit, including Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria as well as alleged Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.

Lavrov said October 22 that Russia would welcome talks with the United States on extending the 2010 New START treaty, which limits numbers of Russian and U.S. long-range nuclear weapons such as ICBMs, beyond its 2021 expiration date.

Meanwhile, Peskov, when asked to comment on remarks Putin made on October 18, said Putin stated that Russia would not launch a nuclear strike unless it is attacked with nuclear weapons or is targeted in a conventional attack that threatens its existence.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, TASS, RIA, AFP, RBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and Mike Eckel in Washington
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