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Putin says Trump shares arms race fears, urges 'practical' steps

"In my last conversation with President Trump, I felt some optimism because Donald told me he is also worried about it, he understands how much money the U.S. and other countries spend on rearmament and that this money could be devoted to other purposes," Vladimir Putin said of his talk last month with the U.S. president.

AKOS STILLER/BLOOMBERG

By ROSALIND MATHIESON, HENRY MEYER AND ILYA ARKHIPOV | Bloomberg | Published: June 6, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin said U.S. counterpart Donald Trump has told him that he doesn't want a costly arms race, urging the American leader to take "practical" steps to prevent a key nuclear pact from lapsing in 2021.

"In my last conversation with President Trump, I felt some optimism because Donald told me he is also worried about it, he understands how much money the U.S. and other countries spend on rearmament and that this money could be devoted to other purposes," Putin said of his phone call last month with the U.S. president. "I agree totally with him."

At the same time, the Russian leader condemned the U.S. for its February pull-out from a 1987 treaty that banned intermediate-range missiles in Europe and warned against the expiration of New START, which restricts the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

"We've said 100 times we're ready, but there aren't any negotiations," Putin said at a meeting with international media executives in St. Petersburg on Thursday. "In 2021, it will all be over — there won't be any instruments keeping in check the arms race and this means the threat of nuclear weapons will be permanently hanging over us."

The looming standoff puts Washington and Moscow on a path back to the era of the 1950s and 1960s when the two superpowers were rapidly building up their strategic forces. It risks destroying decades of arms control efforts under which the rivals accepted limits on their arsenals in the wake of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which took them to the brink of a nuclear clash.

Russia has said it's ready to hold talks on extending New START for another five years, while the Trump administration says it's only interested in a broader pact that includes China, which has rejected the proposal.

Putin repeated his denial of the U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor, though he allowed the possibility that Russian hackers may have acted out of injured national pride.

Russia "never intended to interfere and we are not going to interfere in elections," Putin said. "But the citizens of a country can react if they hear things said about their country."

Asked about Trump's tweet that Russia had informed him it was pulling out personnel from the country following a report in the Wall Street Journal about the withdrawal of Russian defense technicians, Putin said Moscow was continuing to service arms contracts.

"We're not setting anything up there, no military bases, and we're not sending any troops there. Never have," Putin said.

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