Putin and Trump talks in Paris set to focus on arms control

US cancellation of arms treaty with Moscow provokes variety of political interpretations

US president Donald Trump meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in July 2018: Moscow says US move is a dangerous step that may spur a new arms race. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

US president Donald Trump meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in July 2018: Moscow says US move is a dangerous step that may spur a new arms race. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

 

Arms control will likely top the fraught agenda when Vladimir Putin meets US president Donald Trump for talks in Paris in November.

Russia has slammed Mr Trump’s decision to take the US out of the Intermediate Medium Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) as a dangerous step that would spur a new arms race and imperil European security.

US accusations that Russia had violated the INF were unfounded, Mr Putin said on Thursday, warning that Russia would respond “in kind” if the US deployed new weapons systems. “Our duty is to do everything necessary to protect the motherland reliably,” said the Russian president.

Behind the scenes, some Russian officials have suggested Mr Trump’s threat to scrap the INF was merely a ploy to force the Kremlin into concessions over Ukraine and Syria.

However, during a visit to Moscow this week, John Bolton, Mr Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, insisted the US had no interest in remaining in a bilateral arms control pact that Russia was violating and that other nuclear powers such as China and North Korea were free to ignore. “Only one country was constrained by the treaty and that was the United States, ” he told a press conference at Interfax after talks with Putin on Tuesday.

Conciliatory gesture

In what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture, Mr Bolton said Mr Trump would be “happy” to meet Mr Putin during celebrations of the centenary of the end of the first World War in Paris on November 11th. Mr Putin said he wanted to use the opportunity to talk about arms control with his US counterpart. “We are ready to work with our American partners without any hysterics,” he said.

Some Russian commentators suspect the Kremlin might not be as appalled by the imminent demise of the INF as it has made out. Russian defence officials have complained repeatedly in recent years that implementation of the treaty had been unfair with the Soviets destroying far more intermediate-range missiles than the US in the 1980s.

Mr Trump had delivered “a gift to the Russian party of war” by shouldering responsibility for the cancellation of the arms control pact and freeing Russia to deploy new missiles it had already developed in Europe, Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst wrote in Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian daily.

Weapons ecosystem

Moscow should avoid the temptation of adding the US withdrawal from the INF to its “laundry list of grievances against Washington” as a propaganda tool, and instead take the lead in defining a new global arms control ecosystem that accommodated other nuclear powers, said Andrey Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Russia had “formidable Soviet and Russian international negotiators, as well as an established strategic arms expert community”, he wrote on the Carnegie Moscow Centre website.

The US exit from the INF was a “humiliation” for the Kremlin, destroying an important symbol of Russia’s power as a parity partner with America in arms control, according to Lilia Shevtsova, a Russian political analyst based at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

“America is destroying its bipolarity with Russia because it needs a free hand to make another bipolarity with China,” she wrote on the website of the radio station Echo Moskvy. “In this tango, Russia will be the third party.”