Kremlin threatens retailiation if US withdraws from treaty

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 Hamburg Summit. Photo by the Kremlin.

Following President Trump’s comments  regarding his plans to withdraw the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, the Kremlin states Russia will “restore balance” by developing new missiles if the US withdraws unilaterally, Politico reports. 

President Trump made the comments on Saturday after his campaign rally.

“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One to leave Nevada following a campaign rally

“And I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” he said. “We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement.

“But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re gonna pull out,” he said of the agreement, which was signed in December 1987 by former President Ronald Reagan and former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev.

CNN

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said today,  “It means that the United States is not disguising, but is openly starting to develop these systems in the future, and if these systems are being developed, then actions are necessary from other countries, in this case Russia, to restore balance in this sphere,” Reuters reports.

Peskov also stated that if the US were to pull out of the treaty, it would be a matter of “strategic security” for Russia, pointing out that Putin says Russia would be forced to take steps to protect itself.

Russia denies they have broken the terms of the treaty and pointed out that the US has been undermining the treaty.

“Putin has said many times said the United States de facto is taking measures that are eroding the conditions of this treaty,” said Peskov, referring to strike drones and anti-missile systems capable of destroying short- and intermediate-range rockets.

Reuters

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, INF, bans ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles, per CNN and provided protection for Europe during the cold war arms race. After signing the treaty, the US destroyed 846 missiles and Russia destroyed 1,846, according to the New York Times.

Russia is believed to have breached the treaty since at least 2014. President Obama opted not to withdraw from the treaty, fearing that to do so would lead to increased destabilization, even though his administration was the first to publicly allege that Russia had violated the treaty.

While NATO has long criticized Russia, the INF is still viewed as crucial to the stability between nations. The New York Times quotes Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert, as saying, “Things are just now calming down,” he said. “This would be another hand grenade in the middle of NATO to split the allies.”

The UK, via Gavin Williamson, British defense minister, says it is standing behind the US in this decision, but others are more cautious. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the treaty a “pillar of European security architecture” and urged the US to consider potential consequences.

China is also urging caution, with the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying the US should “think thrice” before taking actions that will impact many, Reuters reports.

Reuters also reports that 87 year old Mikhail Gorbachev says withdrawing from the treaty would undermine the work done to end the arms race in the cold war, quoting him as saying, “Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?” 

Steven Pfifer, a former State Department official, believes a unilateral US withdrawal would be cause for Russia to celebrate.

“The United States will get the blame for killing the treaty,” Pifer wrote, adding that “US evidence of the Russian violation is highly classified, so the public debate will devolve into an exchange of charges, counter-charges, and denials.”

CNN

Rear Adm. John Kirby, a former State Department spokesman, agrees that the Kremlin will benefit from a US withdrawal, telling CNN, “It hands Putin a victory and allows him to accelerate the development of this capability. He will now be able to violate it much more blatantly.”

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, and INF opponent, will be meeting with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, after he meets with senior Russian officials on Monday. Pescov, Kremlin spokesman, noted that the White House has not yet given official notification of withdrawl from the treaty.

Members of Congress have expressed concern and opposition for the idea, with Senator Corker saying he hoped this was merely a threat on the president’s behalf.

And Republican Sen. Bob Corker told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that he thought Trump’s announcement may be an effort aimed at bringing Russia back into compliance, akin to how the administration threatened to leave NAFTA before renegotiating a new trade agreement expected to be signed later this year.”Maybe this is just a move to say, look, if we don’t — if you don’t straighten up, we’re moving out of this,” Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said. “I hope that’s the case. I hope we’re going to be able to figure out a way to stay within the treaty.”

CNN

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