Sunday 17 December 2017

US-Russia tensions are 'dangerous' - Gorbachev

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Picture: Reuters
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Picture: Reuters

Roland Oliphant, Moscow

Soaring tensions between the United States and Russia have brought the world to a "dangerous point", Mikhail Gorbachev warned yesterday.

The former Soviet leader's intervention came amid a collapse in East-West relations over the war in Syria that has seen the Kremlin openly threaten to shoot down Western aircraft, drawing comparisons with the worst crises of the Cold War.

"I think the world has reached a dangerous point," Mr Gorbachev (85) told state news agency RIA Novosti.

"I don't want to give any concrete prescriptions but I do want to say that this needs to stop. We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake."

The United States suspended months of talks with Russia over Syria on October 3, accusing Moscow of ripping up a ceasefire deal to launch a relentless aerial assault on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, called on Russia and the Syrian government to be investigated for war crimes over the Aleppo campaign, a call that was echoed by France's foreign minister yesterday.

Russia, in response, has accused the US of "unfriendly" actions and deployed nuclear-capable missiles to its Western enclave of Kaliningrad and warned that it would shoot down Western aircraft if the US launched air strikes against pro-government targets in Syria.

President Vladimir Putin also pulled out of an arms-control agreement aimed at reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium, and demanded the US roll back its military commitment to Nato members in eastern Europe, saying that expansion of the alliance threatened Russian security.

"It is necessary to return to the main priorities. These are nuclear disarmament, the fight against terrorism, the prevention of an environmental disaster," Mr Gorbachev said, in a rare intervention in global affairs. "Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background," he added.

Mr Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union from 1985 until it broke up in 1991. He is widely credited with ending the Cold War and building the architecture of nuclear arms control in a series of summits with Ronald Reagan.

He has rarely intervened in politics since, but has spoken out to criticise both the Kremlin and the West over the collapse in relations.

In 2014, he blamed American "triumphalism" for fuelling what he warned could become a "new Cold War".

The recent collapse of relations with the West has been accompanied by open speculation in the Russian media about the dangers of all-out war with the US.

Some public figures have compared the confrontation over Syria with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, warned last week: "It's a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War. The current times are different and more dangerous."

Yesterday, Russia said it would expand its current naval facility at the Syrian post of Tartus into a "permanent" base.

The announcement followed the ratification by the Russian parliament of a treaty allowing indefinite deployment of Russian forces to the country.

Russia is also reported to be considering establishing a military presence in Egypt for the first time since the Cold War. Moscow and Cairo are discussing options for renting several bases, including the Soviet-era air base near Sidi Barrani, 'Izvestia', a pro-government daily paper, reported yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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