Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out Wednesday at Washington’s threat to pull out of a key Cold War weapons treaty, while a top general warned Russian forces will target European countries hosting American missiles if the U.S. follows through on the threat.
Rejecting U.S. claims that it was Moscow that had first violated the treaty, Mr. Putin vowed to match any new nuclear weaponry the Pentagon developed if the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty is scrapped.
“It seems that our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that the U.S. has to have this type of weapons,” Mr. Putin said Wednesday in televised remarks. “What would be our response? A very simple one: in that case, we will do the same.”
Russian General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov said the “target” of any Russian retaliation “won’t be U.S. territory but the countries where the intermediate-range missiles are deployed” — the European continent.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at NATO headquarters in Belgium on Tuesday that Mr. Trump is giving Moscow 60 days to “remedy” its INF violations, after which the U.S. would initiate the six-month process for nullifying the deal.
The dramatic move, which raises the prospect of a new Cold War-style arms race in Europe, set nerves on edge at the NATO gathering this week. But the Trump administration also received clear support from many allies on allegations of Russian cheating.
The treaty, negotiated by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prevents the U.S. and Russia from building or deploying nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. Analysts say the goal was to prevent an arms race in so-called “tactical nukes” by U.S. and Russian forces across both Eastern and Western Europe.
In addition to claiming Russian missiles violate the pact, U.S. strategists complain the Cold War-era pact constrains the U.S. while not covering such rising, adversarial powers such as China and Iran.
Reactions continued to trickle in Wednesday to a blunt speech Mr. Pompeo made in Brussels, in which he defended President Trump’s “American first” foreign policy and Mr. Trump’s determination to put U.S. national interests ahead of multilateral initiatives such as the IMF, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.
Mr. Pompeo lashed out at European critics to Mr. Trump, arguing the administration is not to blame for many problems of the postwar international order. He also said Britain’s looming exit from the European Union should serve as a wake-up call to the bloc’s members that the international multilateral system badly needs reform.
“Under President Trump, we are not abandoning international leadership or our friends,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We are acting to preserve, protect and advance an open, just, transparent and free world of sovereign states. This project will require actual, not pretend, restoration of the liberal order among nations.”
A day after the speech, commentary pro and con was still echoing on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Pompeo depicted the transactional and hypernationalist Trump administration as ‘rallying the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order,’” argued Stewart M. Patrick, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. “He did so while launching gratuitous attacks on the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, and [IMF] — pillars of the existing postwar order the United States did so much to create.”
Ulrich Speck, a senior visiting fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which hosted Mr. Pompeo’s remarks Tuesday, called the speech as a “missed opportunity.”
Mr. Pompeo proposed Europeans work with the U.S. to build a new liberal order that is stronger than existing institutions when it comes to preventing war and achieving greater freedom and prosperity for more people. The problem, wrote Mr. Speck in an analysis Wednesday, is that in Europe, the secretary of state’s “harsh criticism of institutions such as the International Criminal Court, the U.N., and the EU will not be seen as a genuine offer to tango in Paris, Berlin and Brussels.”
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