MOSCOW, Russia - Two days after the U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intentions to withdraw the U.S. from the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (IRN) Treaty, his National Security Advisor John Bolton travelled to Russia, to officially convey the message.
The IRN Treaty, which was negotiated on December 8, 1987 by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.
While both the countries have accused each other of violations over the last decade, Trump's decision to scrap the nuclear arms control framework that emerged from the Cold War, threatened to trigger an arms war and jeopardize global stability.
While Trump's announcement drew a mixed response within the U.S., the country's European allies expressed concerns over a renewed arms race that could trigger a war like situation or worse, a nuclear war.
Will act on decisions, not intentions
The decision provoked Russian officials, who sought an explanation from the U.S. decision, which was dubbed as "blackmail."
Russia's Foreign Ministry demanded “to hear a coherent explanation” of Washington’s actions, with senior officials calling the prospect of U.S. withdrawal a harbinger of “complete chaos in the sphere of nuclear armaments.”
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hopes to discuss the pact and pointed out, "The treaty itself contains a procedure which provides for the possibility of withdrawing from the treaty. But this procedure hasn't yet been triggered."
However, Lavrov warned that Moscow's response would be forthcoming after it receives clarification from its U.S. counterparts.
He clarified that Washington's decision to withdraw from the pact would be met with firm opposition from Moscow and said that Russia will "decide on our position based not on intentions, but on clearly expressed decisions."
Lavrov said, "Any action in this area would be met with counteraction because strategic stability can only be achieved on the basis of parity. Such parity will be preserved in all circumstances. We are responsible for global stability, and hope that the United States will not give up its share of responsibility as well."
Meanwhile, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected Trump's claims that Moscow was violating the provisions of the INF.
Peskov said, "Russia has been and remains committed to the provisions of [the INF] treaty. And we believe that the [U.S.] intention to withdraw from this document is cause for concern, because such steps if implemented, will make the world a more dangerous place."
He even accused the U.S. of "eroding the foundations and main provisions of this treaty."
'Not a bargaining tactic'
While many U.S lawmakers believed that Trump's threat to nix the historic pact could be a negotiating tactic to force Russia to comply with the INF - that possibility ended on Monday.
The U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who landed in Moscow as part of a previously planned two-day trip on Monday, clarified Washington's decision in discussions with Russian officials.
A long-standing opponent of arms control treaties, Bolton is widely speculated as being the mastermind who influenced Trump's decision to nix the Treaty.
Details of his intense campaign aimed at lobbying Trump into quitting the INF were exposed days before Trump made his intentions public.
Last week, senior staff sources quoted in a report in the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed how Bolton had personally persuaded Trump to quit the Treaty.
The revelations, followed by Trump's decisive statement on Saturday illustrated how the straight-shooting veteran hawk had dramatically evolved into the most influential U.S. foreign policy architect within seven months of his appointment.
While Bolton's Moscow trip had been planned to further the talks initiated in Helsinki and to arrange a meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump - his agenda shifted over the weekend.
Bolton was tasked with officially informing the Russian President of Trump's decision to exit the Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty and was set to hold meetings with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
In his first meeting on Monday, the U.S. National Security Adviser conveyed the Trump administration's intention to the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev.
According to the terms of the treaty, the U.S. would have a six-month period to withdraw after providing official notice.
Bolton reportedly relayed to his Russian counterpart in "strong, clear and precise words" exactly what Trump said on Saturday.
He told Patrushev, "We’re going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out" of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Patrushev reportedly told Bolton that the U.S. withdrawal would be a "serious blow" to the non-proliferation regime.
However, the Russian Security Council Secretary added that the Kremlin was "ready" to work with the U.S. to remove "mutual" grievances over the INF.
Following his meetings with Patrushev and then with Lavrov, Bolton said that he had denied Russian allegations that the U.S. was using the threat of treaty withdrawal to blackmail Russia.
Russian officials denied U.S. allegations of violation of the pact, and Bolton added, "A bilateral treaty no longer met today’s realities because unlike in the Cold War, multiple states are now developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles."
He said that those states include China and North Korea.
While Bolton clarified that the U.S. is serious about pulling out the agreement, he confirmed that further discussions have been planned before formal notice of the decision would be given to Moscow
Bolton pointed out, "The next step is consultations with our friends in Europe and Asia."
'Don't play games with me'
On Monday, Trump reiterated his decision and told reporters that the U.S. would build up its overall nuclear arsenal, if necessary.
The U.S. President said, “We have more money than anybody else by far. We'll build it up until they come to their senses. When they do, then we'll all be smart, and we'll all stop. And by the way not only stop, we'll reduce, which I would love to do. But right now, they have not adhered to the agreement."
Questioned over whether he meant to deliver a threat to Russia, Trump said, “It’s a threat to whoever you want. It includes China, and it includes Russia and whoever wants to play that game. You can’t play that game on me.”
However, Trump added that ultimately he hoped to bring the country back onto the path of reducing its weapons stockpiles.
Meanwhile, responding to Trump's threat, Russia said that it would be forced to respond in kind to restore the military balance with the U.S. if Trump quits the nuclear arms treaty and begins developing new missiles.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin had repeatedly warned that the demise of the treaty would compel Moscow to take specific military steps.
He pointed out, “Scrapping the provisions of the INF treaty forces Russia to take measures for its own security because what does scrapping the INF treaty mean?"
Adding, “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.”