President Donald Trump said Washington would withdraw from a landmark Cold War-era treaty that eliminated nuclear missiles from Europe because Russia was violating the pact, triggering a warning of retaliatory measures from Moscow.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, required elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
“Russia has not, unfortunately, honoured the agreement so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters on Saturday after a rally in Nevada.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Sunday that a unilateral withdrawal by the United States would be “very dangerous” and lead to a “military-technical” retaliation.
Gorbachev, now a frail 87-year-old, said it would be a mistake for Washington to quit the treaty, and it would undermine work he and U.S. counterparts did to end the Cold War Arms race.
A Kremlin spokesman said Russian President Vladimir Putin would seek answers about the planned withdrawal when he meets John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, for scheduled talks in Moscow this week.
U.S. authorities believe Moscow is developing and has deployed a ground-launched system in breach of the INF treaty that could allow it to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice. Russia has consistently denied any such violation.
Trump said the United States will develop the weapons unless Russia and China agree to a halt on development. China is not a party to the treaty.
The arms control accord, signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in a ceremony at the White House, bans land-based medium-range nuclear missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska.
But this provoked a wave of protests from anti-nuclear campaigners, who felt the deployment turned Europe into a potential nuclear battleground.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, in comments reported by state-controlled RIA news agency, said if the United States withdrew, Russia would have no choice but to retaliate, including taking unspecified measures of a “military-technical nature”.
“But we would rather things did not get that far,” RIA quoted him as saying.
He said the Trump administration was using the treaty in an attempt to blackmail the Kremlin, putting global security at risk. “… We will, of course, accept no ultimatums or blackmail methods,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
British defense minister Gavin Williamson, in comments reported by the Financial Times, said London stood “resolute” behind Washington over the issue, and that the Kremlin was making a mockery of the agreement.