Britain Agrees With Trump, Russia Claims 'Blackmail' Over Decision to Pull Out of Cold War Nuclear Treaty

Russia has accused the U.S. of "blackmail" after President Donald Trump said he would scrap a Cold War-era arms treaty with Russia credited with ensuring peace between the two former foes. Trump has now received the backing of the U.K., in the form of supporting remarks made by British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson.

On Saturday Trump repeated claims that Russia has violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) which banned ground-launch nuclear missiles with a range of up to around 3,400 miles.

The treaty signed in 1987 by the then American and Russian leaders, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, eliminated 2,700 missiles and ended a standoff between U.S. Pershing and cruise missiles and Soviet SS-20 missiles in Europe.

But Washington hawks believe the INF treaty stops the U.S. from responding to Chinese medium-range missiles in the Pacific that could threaten American bases. Beijing is not a signatory to the INF.

Trump told reporters on Saturday: "We'll have to develop those weapons. We're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out. Russia has violated the agreement… We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we've honored the agreement but Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement so we're going to terminate the agreement, we're going to pull out."

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a 'Make America Great' rally in Missoula, Montana, on October 18, 2018. He has announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Cold War-era treaty the INF. Nicholas Kamm /AFP/Getty Images

In a statement to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was concerned at Washington's "new attempts to force Russia to make concessions in international security and strategic stability via blackmail.

"The Russian side has repeatedly said that the U.S. has no reason to accuse Russia of allegedly violating this treaty. After all these years, they have failed to substantiate their fanciful claims by clear explanations why they are doing this."

British Defense Secretary Williamson said London agreed with Trump that Russia was in breach of the INF and "needed to get its house in order. Our close and long-term ally of course is the United States and we will be absolutely resolute with the United States in hammering home a clear message that Russia needs to respect the treaty obligation that it signed," he told the Financial Times.

Trump's comments came ahead of a scheduled meeting between his national security advisor John Bolton, who has been pushing to leave the INF, and the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov next week.

Experts have voiced serious concerns at the move which would coincide with Washington's opposition to continuing the 2010 New Start agreement with Moscow that limits the number of deployed strategic warheads and expires in 2021.

Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute told The Guardian: "This is the most severe crisis in nuclear arms control since the 1980s. If the INF treaty collapses, and with the New Start treaty on strategic arms due to expire in 2021, the world could be left without any limits on the nuclear arsenals of nuclear states for the first time since 1972."

Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said: "This is a colossal mistake. Russia gets to violate the treaty and Trump takes the blame. I doubt very much that the US will deploy much that would have been prohibited by the treaty. Russia, though, will go gangbusters," The Guardian reported.

A Russian foreign ministry official told RIA Novosti that the American move to withdraw from the treaty showed how Washington had a "dream of a unipolar world."

Russian senator Alexei Pushkov tweeted that the move would "not make America great again but make America more vulnerable again. In this area, the United States will not be able to gain decisive superiority—it is a dangerous illusion. It would be better to change Trump's mind," Pushkov said.