US blames Russia for collapse of Cold War-era pact to limit nuclear arsenals

2 August 2019, 07:29 | Updated: 2 August 2019, 12:53

The US has blamed Russia for the collapse of a landmark arms deal designed to limit how much they can expand their nuclear arsenals.

President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty three decades ago, but the modern day White House and Kremlin have shown no willingness to extend or replace it once it expires in 2021.

The US confirmed it would quit the agreement on Friday but has blamed Russia, claiming that Moscow has been in violation of its terms for years in its development and fielding of certain weapons.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia "is solely responsible for the treaty's demise", which comes amid concerns over a new, land-based, medium-range missile built in the country.

NATO said it would "respond in a measured and responsible way" to the "significant risks" posed by the weapon, with members having agreed upon a "balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures".

Ahead of the move by the White House, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Sky News that the country has started research and development on ballistic and cruise missiles of intermediate range capabilities, but that no such weapons would be deployed "unless the US does [deploy similar missiles] so anywhere in the world".

He added that Moscow also considers the deployment of conventional missiles in Europe to be destabilising.

The collapse of the treaty means that there will be no legally binding restrictions on the two biggest collections of nuclear weaponry in the world for the first time in nearly half a century, prompting fears of a new global arms race.

The Trump administration has indicated that it will now counter Russia - and the emerging power of China - by increasing its own arsenal.

Donald Trump has also not committed to extending or replacing the more recent New Start deal, which began imposing limits on the number of US and Russian long-range nuclear warheads and launchers last year.

The US president has described it as "just another bad deal" signed by predecessor Barack Obama, and has suggested he would prefer to strike an arms control agreement that also included China.

Speaking on Thursday, he said: "We'll see what happens. I will say Russia would like to do something on a nuclear treaty and that's okay with me. They'd like to do something and so would I."

The Republican has withdrawn the US from a number of deals signed by previous administrations since he took office in 2017, including the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

While Mr Trump has appeared relaxed about the demise of the 1987 treaty signed by Mr Reagan and Mr Gorbachev, its collapse has been met with concern in Europe.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said it meant the continent was less secure.

"We regret the fact that Russia has not done what was necessary to save the INF treaty," he said.

"Now we call all the more on Russia and the US to preserve the New Start treaty as a cornerstone of worldwide arms control.

"Nuclear powers such as China must also face up to their responsibility on arms control - they have more weight in the world than at the time of the Cold War."