WASHINGTON – U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, after U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States would abandon a Cold War-era nuclear treaty and build up its nuclear arsenal.
Trump sparked concern globally Saturday with his announcement that the U.S. would jettison the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), although his administration claimed support for the move from Japan, the U.K. and other countries.
Russia has warned that U.S. withdrawal from the pact could cripple global security.
The treaty, which bans intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles, was signed in 1987 by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev — the last Soviet leader — and resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.
The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which the U.S. says fall under the treaty’s ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometers).
The Kremlin was ready to work with Washington to salvage the agreement, the Russian Security Council said after a meeting between its chief Nikolai Patrushev and the U.S. national security advisor in Moscow.
On Monday, Bolton discussed the fate of the treaty with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and spent “nearly five hours” in talks with Patrushev, a spokesman for the Russian Security Council said.
Speaking after that meeting, Bolton said the Russians had insisted that Moscow was not in violation of the treaty.
“The position was very firmly announced by Russia that they did not believe that they were breaching the INF treaty. In fact they said: ‘You are breaching the INF treaty,’ ” Bolton said in an interview with Kommersant, a Russian broadsheet.
“You can’t bring somebody into compliance who does not think they are in breach,” he said, adding the treaty seems to have run its course.
The two men also discussed a possible extension by five years of the New START arms control treaty, which expires in 2021, the Security Council said.
Bolton told Kommersant that Washington wanted to “resolve the INF issue first.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected claims that Moscow has violated the pact, instead accusing Washington of doing so, and called Bolton’s upcoming meeting with Putin important.
“There are more questions than answers,” he told journalists.
The Russian foreign ministry released a picture of Lavrov talking to a grinning Bolton, and said the two men discussed bilateral cooperation, the fight against terror, and “maintaining strategic stability.”
In Washington, Trump told reporters that Russia had “not adhered to the spirit of that agreement or to the agreement itself.”
“Until people come to their senses, we will build it up,” he said, referring to America’s nuclear stockpile. “This should have been done years ago.”
“It’s a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China. And it includes Russia,” the U.S. president continued. “And it includes anybody else who wants to play that game. You can’t do that. You can’t play that game.”
“Until they get smart, there’s going to be nobody that’s going to be even close to us.”
Trump’s announcement has raised global concerns, with the European Commission urging the United States and Russia to pursue talks to preserve the treaty and China calling on Washington to “think twice.”
“The U.S. and the Russian Federation need to remain in a constructive dialogue to preserve this treaty and ensure it is fully and verifiably implemented,” said Maja Kocijancic, the EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said a unilateral withdrawal from the treaty “will have a multitude of negative effects.”
Bolton, however, said Britain, Japan, and a number of other countries supported the U.S. position.
Analysts have warned that the latest rift between Moscow and Washington could have lamentable consequences, dragging Russia into a new arms race.
Putin last week raised eyebrows by saying Russians would “go to heaven” in the event of nuclear war and that Moscow would not use nuclear weapons first.
“The aggressor will have to understand that retaliation is inevitable, that it will be destroyed and that we, as victims of aggression, as martyrs, will go to heaven,” he said.
“They will simply croak because they won’t even have time to repent.”
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The two states are also at odds over Russian support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
Putin and Trump will both be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking 100 years since the end of World War I.