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World

Putin Warns Of Nuclear Arms Race

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Russia has reacted angrily to news that the Trump administration plans to withdraw the U.S. from an arms control treaty that helped end the Cold War. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in The New York Times this week that the INF Treaty he negotiated with President Ronald Reagan paved the way for drastic reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both Russia and the U.S. And as NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow, President Putin now warns that the world could experience a new nuclear arms race.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: President Putin minced no words when asked about the Trump administration's exit from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty for short.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) If it gets to the point that European countries agree to base U.S. missiles then they should understand they're putting themselves under threat of a potential retaliatory strike. That much is obvious.

KIM: Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday with Italy's prime minister, Putin said Russia would be forced to react symmetrically to any change in the balance of power. For the past three decades, the INF Treaty has kept medium-range U.S. and Russian missiles off European soil. But this week, Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton traveled to Moscow to tell Putin the U.S. is pulling out. Bolton told reporters that countries like China, Iran or North Korea aren't bound by the treaty and that Russia, the only other signatory, is already in violation of it.

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JOHN BOLTON: The threat is not American withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The threat is the Russian missiles already deployed.

KIM: The Kremlin denies it's broken the INF Treaty. It says Washington is pushing the limits of the agreement with its arsenal of armed drones and missile sites in Poland and Romania, which the U.S. says are defensive. Alexander Golts, a defense analyst in Moscow, says Russia has been trying to have it both ways, violating the treaty with its own secret missile deployments while still wanting to retain the INF agreement.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: (Through interpreter) If the treaty is no longer in effect then sooner or later American medium-range missiles will be based in Europe. And that means Russia's medium-range missiles can't reach Washington, but that American missiles will need just six to 10 minutes to hit Moscow, St. Petersburg and, most importantly, Russian command centers.

KIM: Bolton didn't come to Moscow to bargain with Putin, but to inform him of the Trump administration's decision. But they also discussed a potential meeting between Trump and Putin in Paris next month, and even a possible visit by Vladimir Putin to Washington next year. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.