Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the US-Russia nuclear treaty with Ronald Reagan, has called US President Donald Trump’s plan to quit the deal a mistake.
- Mr Gorbachev says ‘under no circumstances’ should the agreement be abandoned
- Mr Trump’s comments receive mixed reactions from Western allies
- Nuclear experts warn that tearing up the deal should be a last resort
Mr Trump announced on Saturday (local time) that the United States would leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), claiming that Russia had been violating the agreement for many years.
He said Russia had violated terms of the treaty that prohibit the two super powers from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
Russia has repeatedly denied allegations it has produced and tested such a missile, and Mr Gorbachev was quick to slam Mr Trump for his comments, saying “quitting the INF is a mistake”.
“Under no circumstances should we tear up old disarmament agreements,” Mr Gorbachev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
“Do they really not understand in Washington what this could lead to?”
Mr Gorbachev’s leadership alongside Mr Reagan in the US helped bring an end to the Cold War and improve the relations between the two military powerhouses.
The treaty helps protect the security of the US and its allies in Europe and the Far East, but has constrained the US from developing new nuclear weapons.
Mr Gorbachev called on “all who cherish the world, especially a world without nuclear weapons” to hit back at Washington’s attempt to “turn back politics”.
Russia’s current administration also hit back at the announcement from Mr Trump, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov quoted as telling state news agency Tass that leaving the treaty “would be a very dangerous step”.
He said it would “cause the most serious condemnation from all members of the international community who are committed to security and stability”.
Mr Reagan signs the INF treaty with Mr Gorbachev at the White House in 1987. (Reuters: Dennis Paquin)
Konstatin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on Facebook that a US withdrawal from the treaty would mean “mankind is facing full chaos in the nuclear weapons sphere.”
Mr Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet in Moscow on Tuesday (local time).
Co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons group, Tillman Ruff, told the ABC’s News Breakfast program it was vital the two nations exhausted all other options before abandoning the deal.
@NewsBreakfast: This treaty is the only one to eliminate a whole class of nuclear weapons, says @nuclearban co-founder Tilman Ruff
“There have been accusations on both sides, what they haven’t done sufficiently to date is really sit down and try and work those out,” Mr Ruff told News Breakfast.
“It’s really crucial that they discuss and deal with these compliance concerns on both sides and not simply walk away form the agreement before they have exhausted seeking to ensure that it can continue.”
Russia has made accusations against the US concerning their missile defence deployments in Romania, as well as ones planned for Japan, claiming that they violate the terms of the agreement, according to Mr Ruff.
He added that the move from Mr Trump seems to be part of a trend in the current US administration in attempting to remove international constraints on the United States to operate freely in the global sphere, pointing to the decision to leave the Paris climate change agreement and the Iran nuclear deal as examples.
Republicans concerned about Trump’s announcement
The reaction to Mr Trump’s comments from the United States’ major Western allies was mixed.
British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the UK stands “absolutely resolute” with Washington on the issue and called on the Kremlin to “get its house in order”, according to the Financial Times.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Mr Trump’s announcement “raises difficult questions for us and Europe,” but noted that Russia hadn’t cleared up allegations of violating the treaty.
US Republican’s also questioned Mr Trump’s announcement, with Senator Rand Paul pointing the finger at Mr Bolton, saying on Fox News that he is likely the one advising Mr Trump to withdraw and “I don’t think he recognises the important achievement of Reagan and Gorbachev on this”.
Fellow Republican, senator Bob Corker also raised concerns that abandoning the deal could lead to the undoing of other important arms treaties, but suggested Mr Trump may just be trying to pressure Mr Putin.
“Maybe this is just a move to say, look … if you don’t straighten up we’re moving out of this,” he told CNN. “And I hope that’s the case.”
The prospect of withdrawing from the INF adds to the substantial tensions between Washington and Moscow, including allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and sanctions imposed over Russia’s involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict.
On Friday, the US announced criminal charges against a Russian for alleged attempts to influence next month’s mid-term elections.