Moscow, Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has questioned the intelligence behind US President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from a key Cold War nuclear weapons treaty.
Gorbachev, who signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with President Ronald Reagan in 1987, said on Sunday that Trump’s move is a reversal of efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament, the BBC reported.
Trump said Russia had been “violating (the INF) for many years”. He said the US would not let Russia “go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to”.
The US insists the Russians have, in breach of the deal, developed a new medium-range missile called the Novator 9M729 — known to Nato as the SSC-8, the BBC said.
It would enable Russia to launch a nuclear strike on Nato countries at very short notice.
Russia has denied the accusation and condemned the plans. It even threatened to retaliate.
“I don’t know why President (Barack) Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out,” Trump said earlier in a campaign rally in Nevada last week. In 2014, Obama had accused Russia of breaching the INF after it allegedly tested a ground-launched cruise missile.
The New York Times reported on Friday the US was considering withdrawing from the treaty in a bid to counter China’s expanding military presence in the western Pacific.
However, he chose not to withdraw from the treaty under pressure from European leaders, who said such a move could restart an arms race.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would be seeking an explanation from visiting US National Security Adviser John Bolton, the BBC reported.
“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.
He also told the news agency RIA Novosti that if the US continued to behave “clumsily and crudely” and backed out of international 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.
Analysts told the BBC Russia sees the Novator 9M729 as a cheaper alternative to conventional forces.
The last time the US withdrew from a major arms treaty was in 2002, when President George W. Bush pulled the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Germany was the first US ally to criticise Trump’s latest move, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urging Washington to consider the consequences both for Europe and for future disarmament efforts.
The INF had banned ground-launched medium-range missiles, with a range of between 500 and 5,500km.
It was signed near the end of the Cold War — a period between 1945 and 1989 marked by intense international tension due to the quality of relations shared between the two super powers — the US and USSR — and overshadowed by the threat of nuclear conflict.
In the past five decades the US and Russia have signed a range of joint agreements to limit and reduce their substantial nuclear arsenals, the BBC report said.
Gorbachev was the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union who was appointed in 1985. His domestic reforms and nuclear disarmament deals helped end the Cold War. He resigned as Soviet president in 1991 after Soviet republics declared independence.