Russia warns of arms race if US quits weapons treaty

Kremlin bids to save landmark arms-control deal as US National Security Adviser John Bolton reaches Moscow for talks.

    Putin has said any Russian killed in a nuclear attack on the country would 'go to heaven as martyrs' [File: Pavel Golovkin/Reuters]
    Putin has said any Russian killed in a nuclear attack on the country would 'go to heaven as martyrs' [File: Pavel Golovkin/Reuters]

    Russia has warned US President Donald Trump's push to withdraw from a landmark anti-proliferation weapons deal could spark a new arms race between Moscow and Washington and "make the world a more dangerous place".

    Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Russia would be forced to act if the United States pulled out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

    "Because what does scrapping the INF treaty mean? It means that the United States is not disguising, but is openly starting to develop these systems in the future," Peskov told reporters at a press conference in the Russian capital, Moscow.

    "And if these systems are being developed, then actions are necessary from other countries, in this case Russia, to restore balance in this sphere," he added. 

    Peskov's comments came ahead of talks between US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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    Bolton, who arrived in Moscow on Monday for a two-day summit during which he will also meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, is expected to face intense inquiries from Kremlin officials over Trump's plans for the deal.

    The INF, which banned all nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500km, was signed in 1987 at a Cold War-era Washington summit between the then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

    Treaty tensions

    Washington and Moscow have traded barbs over the accord since, accusing one another on several occasions of breaching the terms of the landmark treaty.

    US officials 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.

    Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations that it has contravened the treaty, instead claiming that elements of the US' missile defence shield hosted by its NATO allies in Europe contravene the agreement.

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    On Saturday, Trump said Russia had violated the deal for "many years" and pledged to abandon US involvement in the agreement.

    Several international powers - including China, Germany and France - expressed concern over Trump's comments. Britain, the US' long-time ally, said it would stand "absolutely resolute" alongside Washington over the issue, however.

    In Russia, meanwhile, several senior legislators and former Soviet Union leader Gorbachev lambasted the US' president's stance.

    Gorbachev, who, as the last president of the Soviet Union prior to its dissolution in 1991, introduced a series of reforms which helped bring about the end of the Cold War, said Trump's move was "not the work of a great mind".

    "Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements," Gorbachev said, according to the Russia-based Interfax news agency.

    On Monday, Peskov said Russia remained committed to the INF treaty and would "never" inflict a "first strike" attack. Russian President Putin has previously said any Russians killed in a nuclear attack on the country would "go to heaven as martyrs".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies