Now that President Trump has officially declared his intention to scrap the INF arms control treaty to remove constraints preventing the US from countering China’s menacing military presence in the Western Pacific, as well as what many military officials see as an increasingly belligerent Russia, Russian officials have predictably responded by repudiating accusations that Russia had violated the treaty.
One official warned that, by scrapping the treaty, the US could force Russia to “restore the balance”, a veiled reference to developing even more dangerous weapons that would confirm fears that a modern “arms race” between the three global superpowers – the US, China and Russia – has already begun.
Per RT, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said scrapping the deal would make the world “a more dangerous place.”
“Such steps [US quitting the deal], if they are undertaken, will make the world a more dangerous place.”
Peskov said Moscow remains committed to the accord and added that the US hasn’t taken any formal steps to abandon the agreement yet – though the New York Times has reported that the US government is preparing to officially notify Russia about the withdrawal some time this week.
Following reports that National Security Advisor John Bolton had been pushing Trump to withdraw (ironically, Bolton is currently visiting Russia and a handful of other post-Soviet states), arguing that Russia had been violating the agreement with impunity for years.
“We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement,” Trump said Saturday after a campaign rally in Elko, Nevada. “We’re going to terminate the agreement.”
The US insists that Russia breached the deal by developing its Novator 9M729 ballistic missile, also known to NATO as the SSC-8. The 9M729 would allow Russia to launch a nuclear strike at NATO countries at a very short notice.
The 1987 agreement was heralded as a milestone in the detente between the Soviet Union and the US. It helped to eliminate thousands of land-based missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, who recently discussed the possibility that US-Russia hostilities could provoke a new arms race during an interview with the FT, said Trump’s decision to trash the deal will be “very dangerous,” per the BBC.
“This would be a very dangerous step that, I’m sure, not only will not be comprehended by the international community but will provoke serious condemnation,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.
The treaty is “significant for international security and security in the sphere of nuclear arms, for the maintenance of strategic stability,” he told state news agency TASS.
Ryabkov told RIA Novosti that if the US continued to behave “clumsily and crudely” by backing out of other agreements, “then we will have no choice but to undertake retaliatory measures, including involving military technology.”
“But we would not want to get to this stage,” he added.
Even Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who signed the agreement alongside Ronald Reagan, said scrapping the deal risks reversing years of progress on nuclear disarmament.
Other Russian officials have been much more forceful in their denunciations of the deal. A group of lawmakers said the cancellation was akin to blackmail, while Leonid Slutsky, who chairs the International Relations Committee in Russia’s lower parliament house, said Trump’s gesture was akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”
Assuming the US follows through with the decision to formally abandon the deal, both sides could scramble to develop more intermediate range nuclear weapons, which would inevitably ratchet up global tensions at a time when the US and China are already nearing a breaking point.