MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his country’s new missiles would point toward the United States if Washington expands its missile network in Europe.
Putin emphasized that Russia will act only if the United States makes the first move, but his remarks were among the strongest yet on a potential new arms race after the countries’ mutual pullout from a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty.
“Let me be loud and clear,” Putin told lawmakers gathered at a historic hall near the Kremlin for an annual speech that is akin to the U.S. State of the Union address.
He continued with a message to Europe, saying Russia would be “forced to create and deploy types of weapons” that can be used against nations that pose “direct threats.” And in a clear reference to the United States, Putin said the Russian missiles also could be trained on where “the centers of decision-making are located.”
Nuclear saber-rattling has become key to the Kremlin’s projection of power both at home and abroad, and could be an attempt to bring Washington to the negotiating table.
Putin also used the speech to note that testing of a nuclear-
capable glider and an underwater drone is now complete and that the two missiles are ready for inclusion in the country’s arsenal this year.
After his speech, state-run television showed footage of the 80-foot-long drone, called Poseidon, being released underwater.
Speaking just weeks after President Trump pulled out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), Putin accused the United States of violating the terms of the treaty by deploying missile defense systems in Romania and Poland. Putin withdrew from the INF in response to the U.S. move.
Russia has also violated the treaty repeatedly, although Moscow denies this.
The treaty also irked both Washington and Moscow when it came to China. As a non-signatory, China has been free to boost its arsenal and develop weapons that the erstwhile Cold War foes could not.
Current terms dictate that Moscow and Washington have a six-month negotiation window to seek ways to resolve their differences before a full withdrawal from the treaty, although there is widespread speculation that they will not strike a new deal.
Putin said any fresh U.S. moves to place new missiles in Europe — ones that he knows “can reach Moscow within 10 to 12 minutes” — posed a serious threat and would leave Moscow with no choice but to retaliate.
Referring to the United States, Putin said, “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.”
The new hypersonic glider, called the Avangard, which Russia claims can travel 20 times the speed of sound, is a type of weapon that the Pentagon has also been working on. But U.S. officials have warned in recent months that their efforts lag behind those of potential rivals such as Russia.
The nuclear-propelled and nuclear-capable underwater drone — designed to travel thousands of miles before detonating outside a coastal city, causing a tsunami — will be released into the water this spring, the Kremlin says.