US-Russia relations plunge to new lows after Syria bombings and Putin's withdrawal from nuclear pact

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 4:28am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 9:02am

Ties between Russia and the US deteriorated further on Monday after the Obama administration proclaimed bilateral peace talks over Syria dead and Moscow suspended a 16-year-old treaty meant to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.

“Everybody’s patience with Russia has run out,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington, blaming Vladimir Putin’s government for undermining the fight against Islamic State and for indiscriminate bombing that has killed civilians and targeted hospitals in Syria. “Russians have been complicit” in the Syrian tragedy, Earnest said, and “there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about.”

The US said Monday it was withdrawing personnel who had been dispatched to the Middle East in anticipation that a Syrian ceasefire deal reached September 9 would go into effect, a move that would pave the way toward greater coordination between the US and Russian militaries.

That followed Putin’s decision earlier Monday to withdraw from a 2000 accord which committed both countries to eliminating their stockpiles of the plutonium used as the core material in some types of nuclear weapons.

Halting the plutonium pact is a “forced measure,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to the ministry’s website. Russia viewed the 2000 treaty as an “important step” toward nuclear disarmament, he said. Putin’s decree withdrawing from the treaty accused the US of “unfriendly” actions that posed a “threat to strategic stability.”

Moscow, in turn, has blamed the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization for stoking confrontation as it builds up forces in Eastern Europe, and it accused Washington of supporting Islamic State forces after its bombing of Syrian troops last month, which the US said was an accident.

Already strained by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and allegations that Moscow is behind a wave of political hacking attacks in the US, the deteriorating ties between the Cold War rivals could undermine other areas the two countries have coordinated on to resolve global tensions, including sanctions on North Korea and Iran over those nations’ nuclear programmes.