The Kremlin said on Tuesday that a landmark nuclear arms treaty Washington says it wants to quit had its weak points, but that the U.S. approach of talking about leaving it without proposing a replacement was dangerous.
President Vladimir Putin was due to discuss the matter in Moscow later on Tuesday with U.S. President Donald Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton.
Bolton visited Moscow a day after Russia said it would be forced to respond in kind to restore the military balance with the United States if Trump followed through on his threat to quit the treaty and began developing new missiles.
Signed by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty required elimination of all short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe.
Its demise could raise the prospect of a new arms race and of Europe once again hosting U.S. land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, something that would make it a target for Moscow.
Gorbachev, now 87, has warned that unravelling it could have catastrophic consequences. Countries such as Poland have, however, backed Trump's move.
Bolton has said he thinks the treaty is outdated because it does not cover countries such as China, Iran and North Korea which he says remain free to make intermediate-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
"We have this very unusual circumstance where the United States and Russia are in a bilateral treaty, whereas other countries in the world are not bound by it," Bolton told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Monday.
The RIA news agency cited a Russian diplomatic source as saying that Bolton had used a series of meetings with Russian government officials on Tuesday to complain about China's economic and military policies.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he expected Bolton to explain the U.S. stance to Putin.
"Of course there are weak points (in the treaty), but tearing up the agreement without plans for anything new is what we don't welcome," Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
"To first reject the document and then (talk of) ephemeral possibilities to conclude a new one is a dangerous stance."
Russia and the United States have long accused each other of violating the terms of the treaty, something they both deny.
Trump's withdrawal announcement is causing particular concern in Europe which was the main beneficiary of the INF treaty as a result of the removal of Pershing and U.S. cruise missiles from Europe and of Soviet SS-20 missiles from the European part of the then Soviet Union.
Without the treaty, some European countries fear that Washington might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe again and that Russia might move to deploy such missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad which would once again turn Europe into a potential nuclear battlefield.
German lawmakers, who are keenly aware that Berlin would be within strike-range of any such missiles deployed in Kaliningrad, are among those worried.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday that Germany would seek NATO's help to maintain the treaty between Russia and the United States, and was ready to take action to force Moscow to comply with the pact.
Others, such as Poland, were supportive of Trump's stance.
“If this treaty doesn’t work because it has already been broken, there’s a clear question about whether or not it should be kept,” said Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz on Monday, according to Polish Radio.
Polish President Andrzey Duda told a Berlin news conference his country had not discussed the possibility of hosting U.S. intermediate-range missiles, but said Trump's stance made "a certain amount of sense."
Trump’s withdrawal statement puts the rest of NATO in a difficult position however as the alliance has always sought the political high ground on the issue and NATO leaders said in July they were committed to preserving the landmark pact.
Envoys from the Western military alliance are due to discuss the U.S. withdrawal plan later this week, diplomats said.