Russia suspends cold-war nuclear treaty

The suspension is another flashpoint in US-Russia relations and another repudiation by Trump of international agreements


MOSCOW • Russia withdrew from a landmark 1987 nuclear disarmament treaty as President Vladimir Putin signalled he’s open to new talks, the Kremlin said, a day after Donald Trump announced the US is pulling out of the agreement citing years of Russian violations.

Putin discussed the plan to suspend the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev agreement during a working meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, according to the Kremlin.

Russia is open to further negotiations and promised a “mirror answer” to Trump, Putin said, without elaborating, according to the Kremlin. Putin said the country also is suspending work on a hypersonic ground-based rocket of medium range.

China urged both nations to resolve their differences through talks.

Trump said last Friday that the US was suspending its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, starting the clock for withdrawal six months from now, unless Russia “comes back into compliance by destroying all of its violating missiles, launchers and associated equipment”.

The suspension is another flashpoint in US-Russia relations and another repudiation by Trump of international agreements, from the nuclear deal with Iran to the international climate-change accord. Last Friday’s action had been all but guaranteed after Trump set a 60-day deadline two months ago for Russia to destroy all of its ground-launched cruise missiles, known as 9M729s.

“The US has fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years, but we will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions,” Trump said in a statement. “We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other.”

Russia has denied violating the INF Treaty, accusing the US of breaking its terms and warning that withdrawal from the Cold War-era accord signed by the Soviet Union would trigger a new arms race.

Putin said his country should not and will not be drawn into the expensive arms race, but left open the door for negotiations.

“We will wait until our partners are ripe in order to conduct an equal and meaningful dialogue with us on this important topic — both for us and for our partners, and for the whole world,” he said.

He said the US statement about continuing research and development work means “we will do the same”.

Key Pillar

That fear was echoed by analysts and Democratic lawmakers, who agreed that the Russian missiles pose a threat, but said the administration appeared to

have no strategy for how to constrain it. “Russia’s brazen noncompliance with this treaty is deeply concerning, but discarding a key pillar of our nonproliferation security framework creates unacceptable risks,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“Of course, if the US withdraws from the treaty, Russia won’t continue to observe it unilaterally,” said Frants Klintsevich, a member of the Defence Committee in the upper house of Russia’s Parliament. “The US is pulling out in order to legitimise putting its missiles in Europe. Well, we have what we need to re-target, such as sea-based missiles,” he said.

The US has no immediate plans to deploy new missiles to Europe when the withdrawal takes effect in August, according to two administration officials involved in the deliberations who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. It would take considerable time to test, purchase and deploy such missiles, and the administration currently is only considering non-nuclear, conventional options, the officials said.

Russia won’t station any short and medium-sized missiles in Europe and other regions unless the US does, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a website statement.

Notifying Russia

Written notification to Russia and other Soviet-successor states was to be delivered on Saturday, according to the administration officials, who said there’s little optimism that Russia will destroy its missiles as demanded.

China is opposed to the US’ decision to withdraw from the treaty with Russia and urged the two countries to “resolve differences through constructive dialogue”.

This pact is an important bilateral treaty for arms control and disarmament that has contributed to reducing tensions between major powers, enhancing international and regional peace, Geng Shuang, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday.

While Europeans had hoped to preserve the treaty to stem proliferation of ground-launched, intermediate-range nuclear missiles, the Trump administration argued that Russia has been in violation for years any way. White House National Security Advisor John Bolton has called the treaty outdated and one that doesn’t address the rising threat from China, which isn’t a signatory.

Change Course

“The onus is on Russia to change course from a pattern of destabilising activity,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said. “We’ll continue to have conversations with them. We hope they’ll come back into compliance.”

Trump indicated in October that he wanted to pull out, but after consulting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other allies decided to delay the suspension. Pompeo said in early December that the US was giving Russia two more months to get back in compliance with the treaty.

NATO Support

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet after the announcement that NATO fully supports the US action. “Russia is in material breach of the #INFTreaty & must use next 6 months to return to full & verifiable compliance or bear sole responsibility for its demise,” he said on Twitter.

But comments from some European nations suggest allies aren’t fully in agreement with the decision.

“Without the INF Treaty, there will be less security,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters last Friday in Bucharest. “But we have to take note that the INF Treaty is being violated by the Russian side.”

The US argues that Russia has jeopardised the INF Treaty for years by deploying ground-launched missiles that fall within the banned range of 500km (311 miles) to 5,500km.

“My strongest criticism is that the US and NATO have absolutely no Plan B,” said Daryl Kimball, ED of the Arms Control Association in Washington. “The reality is that pulling out of the INF Treaty in protest of Russia’s violation isn’t going to prevent Russia from deploying more of these missiles.” — Bloomberg