Trump Threatens Nuclear Build Up as Kremlin Blasts Treaty Withdrawal as 'Dangerous'

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is scheduled to meet with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday

 U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, July 16, 2018.
\ Grigory Dukor/ REUTERS

The Kremlin said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump took “a dangerous position” by deciding to abandon an existing nuclear weapons treaty with Russia without offering anything to replace it.

As Trump’s national security advisor prepared to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin’s spokesman acknowledged the 1987 arms control deal had “weak spots.” But Dmitry Peskov warned Washington against withdrawing from the agreement without proposing improvements or a substitute treaty.

“Right now, we don’t have any prospects whatsoever for a new deal,” Peskov said. “It’s important to figure out if it’s possible or not.”

Trump on Monday restated his threat to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of alleged Russia violations. He said the United States would and start developing the type of ground-launched nuclear cruise and ballistic missiles the treaty banned until “people come to their senses, we will build it up” and then “we’ll all stop.”

In Moscow, Peskov said that sacrificing the landmark pact for a hypothetical better deal was “a dangerous position.”

The treaty was signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibiting the U.S. and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles.)

China was not a party to the original agreement, and Trump said Monday it should be included in the treaty.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is scheduled to meet with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday. Bolton struck a conciliatory note in his talks with senior Russian officials earlier in the day.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu lauded Bolton for making a two-day visit and said that “even small steps will benefit our relations and help restore trust” between the two countries.

He also said that Russia and the U.S. should build up their cooperation in Syria that helped to prevent major incidents in the sky or on the ground.

Bolton told Shoigu he was in Moscow to work on Trump’s commitment to improve security cooperation with Russia.

“We certainly share your view that the U.S.-Russian discussions with respect to Syria have been useful, productive and professional, and we hope we can extend those conversations through a number of other ways that you mentioned, and even more,” he said.

In televised comments, neither Bolton nor Shoigu mentioned Trump’s announcement on the INF treaty.

In an interview with Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy on Monday, Bolton made it clear the Trump administration had its mind made up about leaving the treaty.

“If Russia says it’s not violating the INF treaty, what are they going to do to change their behavior to comply?” he said.

When signed in 1987, the treaty was lauded as a major safeguard for global security since with no shorter-range missiles in use, the nuclear superpowers would in theory have more time for decision-making if faced with a nuclear attack.

The European Union warned Trump of a potential impact on European security if he decided to go ahead and leave the INF treaty.

An EU statement on Monday described the pact as an essential cornerstone of Europe’s security structure, adding, “the world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary, would bring even more instability.”

Separately, Bolton told Ekho Moskvy that he raised the issue of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections in talks with Security Council chairman Nikolai Patrushev on Monday. He said that he did not believe the meddling had any effect in the U.S. 2016 election, though the accusations created “enormous distrust of Russia.”