Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the United States against deploying intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, saying his country will target the US itself and not just the countries where those missiles are stationed.
In his annual address to Federal Assembly on Wednesday, Putin said Russia was not seeking confrontation and would not take the first step to send missiles in response to Washington’s decision earlier this month to withdraw from a historic Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty.
However, he warned of a “resolute” reaction to any deployment, saying the US policy-makers, some of whom he said were obsessed with US exceptionalism, should calculate the risks before taking any steps.
“It’s their right to think how they want. But can they count? I’m sure they can. Let them count the speed and the range of the weapons systems we are developing,” Putin said.
“Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons which can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centers of decision-making are located.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on February 1 that Washington would suspend the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) for 180 days and fully withdraw from it later if Moscow did not stop what he called “violations.”
US President Donald Trump announced last year that Washington would withdraw from the treaty, which was signed toward the end of the Cold War in 1987 by then US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Under the treaty, both sides were banned from creating ground-launch nuclear missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers and led to the elimination of nearly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles. The pact also banned either side from deploying short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.
Washington insists that Russia’s new 9M729 missile is in violation of the treaty and should be dismantled immediately.
Russia rebutted the claim last month by unveiling the missile and its key specifications. Major General Mikhail Matveevsky, the Russian chief of missile and artillery troops, said the missile’s maximum range is about 480 kilometers, well within what is allowed under the INF.
Putin on February 2 responded to the US move by suspending the agreement, authorizing his military forces to push ahead with the development of new missiles.
However, he said that Moscow will not deploy any new missiles unless Washington does so, because Russia does not want to enter a new arms race with the US.
On Wednesday, Putin said he was ready, reluctantly, to escalate if the US escalated, adding that Russia was continuing to actively develop weapons and missile systems to ensure it was well prepared for such an eventuality.
The Russian leader said any US move to put new missiles in Europe would pose a direct threat to his country and would leave it with no choice but to respond as such deployment would drastically reduce the time it took US missiles to reach Russia.
He said Moscow wanted good ties with Washington, but was ready with its defensive response if necessary. “We know how to do this and we will implement these plans immediately, as soon as the corresponding threats to us become a reality.”