On Wednesday a top Russian defense official warned that it’s impossible that Moscow will renegotiate the the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), said to likely be at the top of the agenda when Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are set to meet in Paris on November 11 on the sidelines of commemorative events of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma, Vladimir Shamanov, is reported to have said there’s “no chances that the nuclear treaty will be renegotiated” citing Russia’s position of there being “no turning point”away from the Reagan and Soviet-era 1987 treaty placing restrictions on nuclear-capable missiles and outlining arms reduction agreements.
This comes after Russian officials reportedly urged US National Security Advisor John Bolton to stay in the treaty during his trip to Moscow this week, something he rebuffed while saying, “There’s a new strategic reality out there,” and described the INF Treaty as a “bilateral treaty in a multipolar ballistic missile world,” that remains insufficient as it does not account for countries like China, Iran or North Korea.
And separately Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Russian state media on Thursday: “I am confident that this topic [US withdrawal from the INF Treaty] will dominate the agenda,” and added “We need to understand where the US is going with this issue.” He said amidst crumbling dialogue between Moscow and Washington officials that direct contact between presidents are “twice as important,” according to TASS.
“We see certain prospects for holding a [Putin-Trump] meeting not only on the sidelines of certain events, but also in the framework of full-format visits,” he added. “However, this definitely requires preparatons at different levels,” Ryabkov said. “In particular, the Russian Foreign Ministry has started preparations for the next meeting,” he explained. On Wednesday FM Lavrov also stated his belief that the U.S. is indeed set to pull out of the nuclear treaty.
This comes shortly after Tuesday’s high level meeting between US National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Putin in Moscow. Though not giving much in the way of details after his 2-day working trip to meet with Russian officials, Bolton told reporters that the United States has yet to take a decision on whether it plans to deploy missiles in Europe if the INF is scrapped. Bolton further said that he now understands Russia’s position on nuclear arms regulations and treaties much better, and added that more consultations on arms treaties are needed, while further denying prior Russian charges that a US pullout of the INF was an attempt at “blackmail,” according to Russian state media sources.
At a news conference in response to a question about the treaty, Bolton said: “It is the American position that Russia is in violation,” and further:
“It is Russia’s position that they’re not in violation. So one has to ask, ‘How do you convince the Russians to come back into compliance with obligations they don’t think they’re violating?’”
Russia has previously suggested the drastic White House move to pullout of the treaty, which comes after Moscow has deployed its newest nuclear-capable Novator 9M729 missile system — said to exceed the missile range stipulated by the treaty — is being used the by Trump administration for blackmail: “We condemn the continuing attempts to achieve Russia’s concessions through blackmail, moreover in such an issue which has importance for international security and security in the nuclear weapons sphere, for maintaining strategic stability,” Russia’s deputy FM stated.
All of this portents that more aggressive rhetoric is coming, possibly threatening the New START treaty, widely considered the last major barrier to unfettered global nuclear proliferation. Trump’s own words on Monday significantly upped the ante when he said of the INF that “Russia has not adhered to the agreement,” and warned that the United States intends to build up its nuclear arsenal until “people come to their senses.” Trump was also addressing China, which both he and Bolton have implied to be part of any newly formulated nuclear arms control treaty.
We expect, however, that just as things reach a chaotic and dangerous crescendo regarding the breaking US-Russia nuclear commitments, Putin and Trump could “miraculously” come through with a last minute breakthrough deal when they meet in Paris in November.
* * *
Ahead of the November 11 Trump-Putin meeting and the heightened threats and warnings, it is worth recalling what Bolton said the last time Putin and Trump were set to meet amidst similar tensions. Remember this?
John Bolton: "The president determined, despite the political noise in the U.S., that direct communication between him and President Putin was in the interest of the United States, in the interest of Russia, and in the interest of peace and security around the world." pic.twitter.com/Ek9vTK07U4
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) June 27, 2018