U.S. arms control treaty pullout would be 'very dangerous step,' says Moscow

U.S. President Donald Trump says his intention to scrap a landmark arms control agreement with Russia follows years of violations by Moscow in developing prohibited weapons.

Russian deputy foreign minister says such a move against INF treaty would work against security and stability

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before leaving Elko Regional Airport in Nevada on Saturday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters )

U.S. President Donald Trump says his intention to scrap a landmark arms control agreement with Russia follows years of violations by Moscow in developing prohibited weapons, and "we're not going to be the only one to adhere to it." The Kremlin said the pullout "would be a very dangerous step."

The 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty helps protect the security of the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Far East. It bars the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.

"Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years," Trump said Saturday after a rally in Elko, Nev. "And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to."

The agreement has constrained the U.S. from developing new weapons, but America will begin developing them unless Russia and China agree not to possess or develop the weapons, Trump said. China is not a party to the pact.

We're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to.-  Donald Trump

"We'll have to develop those weapons, unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say let's really get smart and let's none of us develop those weapons, but if Russia's doing it and if China's doing it, and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable," he said.

Trump is sending his national security adviser, John Bolton, to Moscow for meetings with Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and was expected to relay the news about Trump's decision.

"This would be a very dangerous step," Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, was quoted as telling state news agency Tass on Sunday. He said a U.S. withdrawal "will cause the most serious condemnation from all members of the international community who are committed to security and stability."

Germany weighs in

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also responded on Sunday, saying the U.S. should consider the consequences of a withdrawal, both for Europe and for future disarmament efforts.

"The treaty ... has for 30 years been an important pillar of our European security architecture," Maas said in a statement. "We have often urged Russia to address serious allegations that it is violating the agreement. We now urge the U.S. to consider the possible consequences."

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, seen at UN headquarters on May 4, 2010, has been quoted as saying a U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty 'will cause the most serious condemnation from all members of the international community who are committed to security and stability.' (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

U.S.-Russia relations already are strained as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and upcoming U.S. midterm elections.

Trump did not provide details about violations. But in 2017, White House national security officials said Russia had deployed a cruise missile in violation of the treaty. Earlier, the Obama administration accused the Russians of violating the pact by developing and testing a prohibited cruise missile.

Russia has repeatedly denied that it has violated the treaty and has accused the United States of not being in compliance.

U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis has previously suggested that a Trump administration proposal to add a sea-launched cruise missile to America's nuclear arsenal could provide the U.S. with leverage to try to persuade Russia to come back in line on the arms treaty.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in February that the country would only consider using nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or in response to a non-nuclear assault that endangered the survival of the Russian nation.

Warning of return to Cold War era

An independent Russian political analyst, Dmitry Oreshkin, said, "We are slowly slipping back to the situation of Cold War as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, with quite similar consequences, but now it could be worse because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin belongs to a generation that had no war under its belt."

Trump's decision could prove controversial with European allies and others who see value in the treaty, said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on nuclear arms control.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, shakes hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the two leaders signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, aimed at eliminating intermediate-range missiles, during a ceremony in the White House East Room on Dec. 8, 1987. The Interfax news agency has quoted Gorbachev as saying Trump's plan to quit the treaty is 'very strange.' (Bob Daugherty/Associated Press)

"Once the United States withdraws from the treaty, there is no reason for Russia to even pretend it is observing the limits," he wrote in a post on the organization's website. "Moscow will be free to deploy the 9M729 cruise missile, and an intermediate-range ballistic missile if it wants, without any restraint."

U.S. officials have previously alleged that Russia violated the treaty by deliberately deploying a land-based cruise missile in order to pose a threat to NATO. Russia has claimed that U.S. missile defences violate the pact.

In the past, the Obama administration worked to convince Moscow to respect the INF treaty but made little progress.

"If they get smart and if others get smart and they say let's not develop these horrible nuclear weapons, I would be extremely happy with that, but as long as somebody's violating the agreement, we're not going to be the only ones to adhere to it," Trump said.

With files from Reuters