U.S. President Donald Trump's national-security adviser, John Bolton, is set to begin talks in Moscow amid soaring tensions over Trump's declaration that he would pull the country out of a landmark nuclear weapons treaty.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on October 21 that Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet with Bolton, although he said that 'it will not happen' on October 22, the first official day of his two-day visit.
Bolton is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on October 22.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that he expected Bolton to 'professionally clarify the exact meaning' of Trump's stance on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Earlier, Ryabkov said a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the INF would be 'very dangerous' and lead to a 'military-technical' retaliation.
The INF treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying medium-range, ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.
U.S. officials have said Russia has been developing such a missile for years and, in 2014, Washington made its accusations public.
Russia has repeatedly denied the U.S. accusations and also alleged that some elements of the U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe were in violation of the agreement. Washington denies that.
The treaty was the first arms-control agreement to eliminate an entire class of missiles.
'We're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out,' Trump told reporters on October 20 during a campaign stop in Nevada, adding that Washington would not let Russia 'go out and do weapons [while] we're not allowed to."
The announcement also brought sharp criticism from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the original document in 1987 along with U.S President Ronald Reagan.
The frail, 87-year-old Gorbachev told Interfax that the move showed Washington's 'lack of wisdom.'
'Getting rid of the treaty is a mistake,' he said, adding that leaders 'absolutely must not tear up old agreements on disarmament.'
Reactions were mixed in the West.
In Britain, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said his country stands 'absolutely resolute' with Washington on the issue and called on the Kremlin to 'get its house in order.'
However, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Trump's announcement 'raises difficult questions for us and Europe,' although he asserted that Russia still had not convincingly addressed the allegations that it had violated the treaty.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, criticized Bolton, and said on Fox News that he believes the national-security adviser was behind the decision to withdraw from the treaty.
'I don't think he recognizes the important achievement of Reagan and Gorbachev on this,' Paul said.
Aside from the INF dispute, other issues are raising tensions between Moscow and Washington at the time of Bolton's visit, including Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria as well as alleged Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, RIA, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and RFE/RL correspondent Mike Eckel in Washington
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036