MOSCOW — Russia announced Tuesday that it will expand its nuclear arsenal, sparking concerns about a renewed arms race as old Cold War rivals Moscow and Washington plan to increase their military capacity amid rising tensions over Ukraine.
Russia will acquire 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles “capable of overcoming any, even the most technically sophisticated, missile defense systems,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at an arms expo outside Moscow on Tuesday, just days after the Pentagon confirmed plans to place more heavy equipment in NATO countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry called the announcement concerning, even if Putin “could well be posturing.”
“Nobody wants to see us step backwards,” Kerry said Tuesday. “Nobody should hear that kind of announcement from the leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about what the implications are.”
Several Eastern European nations have asked the United States and NATO to deploy troops and materiel to deter Russia from advancing on territories that were once part of the Soviet sphere.
Those nations became wary of Russia’s intentions after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and supported pro-Russian rebels opposing Kiev’s authority in eastern Ukraine.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that plans to store more heavy weapons in Eastern Europe had nothing to do with Russia but are “purely positioning of equipment to better facilitate our ability to conduct training.”
Putin said Tuesday that plans to store arms in Eastern Europe worry him less than an increase in European missile defenses.
But Russian authorities warned Monday that if the United States starts deploying more heavy weapons, Russia would meet them tit for tat with additional troops, tanks, planes and missile upgrades, according to Russian Gen. Yury Yakubov’s comments to the Interfax news agency.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry also warned that the situation in Europe could start “sliding toward a military standoff” if the Pentagon puts its plans into motion.
The ministry accused the United States of “inciting tensions and carefully nurturing their European allies’ anti-Russian phobias” toward “further expanding its military presence and influence in Europe,” a statement said Monday.
The statement also said the Pentagon’s plans would undermine a 1997 agreement in which NATO pledged not to deploy permanent troops or heavy weapons on the territory of “new” NATO members. The Pentagon might store new heavy-weapons caches in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or Hungary — all of which joined NATO after the 1997 agreement.
Meanwhile, Kerry said Putin may be “trying to move in the opposite direction” of Russia’s obligations under the New START arms-reduction treaty by bringing new nuclear missiles online. The agreement requires both countries to reduce the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers to no more than 700 each, and the number of deployed and non-deployed to no more than 800 each altogether. At last count, Russia had 890 such weapons, 515 of them deployed.
Putin characterized Russia’s plans as part of a “large-scale armament and defense industry modernization program” that includes new tanks and a radar system to warn of long-range threats.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that NATO pledged under the 1997 Founding Act not to deploy heavy weapons into the territory of new member states; that pledge was limited to nuclear weapons only.
Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.