Putin says Russia to target US if it puts missiles in Europe

MOSCOW • President Vladimir Putin (picture) signalled Russia will aim new weapons at the US if it stations missiles in Europe after quitting a landmark Cold-War-era treaty, amid growing fears of a new arms race.

Still, the tone of Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation speech was less belligerent than a year ago, when he showed computer-graphics demonstrations of a series of new missiles and other high-tech weapons that appeared to target the US.

With its only graphic displays focused on economics, this year’s address was devoted primarily to pledges to improve living standards and boost welfare benefits.

Russia doesn’t plan to deploy missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that the US has pulled out of, Putin said.

But if the US does, “Russia will be forced to produce and deploy weapons that can be used not only against the territories from which we face this direct threat but also those where the decision is made to use these missiles”, he said, eliciting applause from the hundreds of officials gathered in the hall near the Kremlin.

The US and its allies are laying the groundwork to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Europe for the first time since they were banned by the treaty. With a second pact covering nuclear weapons likely to expire in two years, the risks of confrontation are growing.

Putin warned that some of the American missiles to be stationed in Europe would hit Moscow within only 10-12 minutes. He blasted the US for ignoring Russia’s interests, saying officials in Washington should “count the range and speed of our future weapons systems”.

INF banned any land-based missiles from Europe with a range between 500km and 5,500km, whether nuclear or conventional.

While the US said it won’t deploy new land-based nuclear weapons in Europe, it’s developing intermediate-range conventional missiles for ground deployment.

Putin blasted US allies in Europe as “satellites” who are ”oinking along with” Washington’s position on pulling out of the INF treaty.

Putin said many of the weapons he displayed last year will soon come into service, including a hypersonic glider launched from missiles that could carry nuclear weapons and evade US missile defences, a laser cannon and an underwater drone called Poseidon.

Putin and his defence minister pledged that Russia won’t need to increase military spending to pay for this build-up.

His warnings came at the end of a speech that focused mainly on a pledge to deliver improvements in living standards in 2019, after years of stagnant or falling real incomes that have sharply dented his popularity.

“Already this year people should feel changes for the better,” Putin said.

“We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past decades and wait for the achievement of Communism,” he said, referring to Soviet promises of an ideal society that never materialised in 70 years of one-party rule. — Bloomberg