Putin tells Bolton US actions against Russia are ‘absolutely unprovoked’, as he agrees to meet Trump next month

  • Trump and Putin will meet in Paris on November 11, at events marking the centenary of Armistice Day
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 2:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 4:47am

Russian President Vladimir Putin complained that US sanctions and other actions against Russia are “absolutely unprovoked” in a meeting with White House National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday, but both sides agreed that Putin and US President Donald Trump would meet in Paris next month.

In a press conference, Bolton described the Kremlin meeting as “comprehensive and productive”, saying that in addition to discussions about the planned US withdrawal from a key nuclear arms treaty, he had raised Russian meddling in US elections, which Bolton called “particularly harmful”.

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that the US would withdraw from an arms treaty that the US says Russia has violated by developing a new cruise missile. Bolton said Monday that the US considers the treaty, governing intermediate-range missiles, obsolete because it does not restrict countries such as China and Iran.

US plans to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty comes after the Trump administration has increased sanctions on Russia to punish the Kremlin for its 2016 election interference and for the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in England earlier this year.

“It’s sometimes surprising to see how the United States makes absolutely unprovoked steps with regard to Russia,” Putin told Bolton through a translator. “We practically haven’t reacted to a single one of your steps but they just go on and on.”

Bolton is in Moscow meeting with Russian officials as a follow-up to Putin’s July summit with Trump in Helsinki. He’s also laid the groundwork for Putin and Trump to meet again, an event now scheduled at a commemoration of the end of World War I in Paris on November 11.

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“Trump would look forward to seeing you in Paris,” Bolton told Putin. “Despite our differences, which exist because of our different national interests, it’s still important to work in areas where there is a possibility of mutual cooperation.”

Putin suggested the US is acting aggressively, citing Trump’s planned exit from the INF treaty and his effort to create a new “Space Force” branch of the US military.

In a sign of the tensions, at the start of their meeting, the Russian leader asked Bolton if the eagle on the seal of the US, which clutches olive branches in one claw and arrows in the other, “has eaten all the olives, leaving only arrows?”

Bolton responded: “I did not bring any more olives.”

“I thought so,” Putin said.

The Russian leader further demonstrated his knowledge of US symbols, citing the motto written on the scroll the eagle holds in its beak – E pluribus unum”, or “Out of many, one” – as reflecting the need to find common ground despite various viewpoints.

While underlining the differences between Russia and the US, Putin also emphasised the need to maintain a dialogue, saying he would meet with Trump in Paris.

Officials on both sides later said a preliminary agreement on the November 11 meeting in the French capital had been reached, and that detailed arrangements were underway.

Putin said his last meeting with Trump in Helsinki in July was useful despite their tough discussion, adding that he would be open to meet with Trump in France “if the US side is interested in such contacts.”

Bolton’s Kremlin meeting with Putin followed two days of talks with top Russian foreign policy and security officials.

Russia ready to respond in kind if US develops intermediate missiles

Putin and Bolton laughed as they exchanged the quips at the start of the meeting, setting an easy tone ahead of what ought to be a tense discussion given Trump’s weekend statement about abandoning the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin’s spokesman said Trump took “a dangerous position” by deciding to abandon an existing nuclear weapons treaty with Russia without offering anything to replace it.

Watch: Trump to pull out of missile treaty with Russia

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Washington took a “dangerous position” by declaring an intention to withdraw from the 1987 INF Treaty without proposing improvements or a substitute agreement.

“Right now, we don’t have any prospects whatsoever for a new deal,” Peskov said. “It’s important to figure out if it’s possible or not.”

The treaty was signed by US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibiting the US and Russia from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500km.

China was not a party to the original agreement, and Trump argued that it should be included in the treaty.

Botlon’s 90-minute meeting with Putin also touched on the conflict in Syria and election meddling, Bolton said at a subsequent press conference.

“We discussed our continuing concern with Russian meddling in elections and why it was particularly harmful for Russian-American relations without producing anything in return,” he said.

“We had lengthy conversations about arms control issues, the new strategic landscape and the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse