Putin says Russia to add 40 new intercontinental missiles this year
Russian move is 'destabilizing and it's dangerous,' NATO secretary general says
Russia's military will add over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles this year alone that are capable of piercing any missile defences, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday in a blunt reminder of the nation's nuclear might amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.
Putin spoke at the opening of an arms show at a shooting range in Alabino — just west of Moscow — which is intended to showcase Russia's resurgent military.
The Russian move is "destabilizing and it's dangerous," North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
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"This nuclear saber-rattling of Russia is unjustified," Stoltenberg said. "They are developing new nuclear capabilities and they are also using nuclear rhetoric more in the way they are messaging their defence strategy and defence posture."
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned the U.S. and Europe of how their military responses could inflame already heightened pressures.
"The United States is inciting tensions and carefully nurturing their European allies' anti-Russian phobias in order to use the current difficult situation for further expanding its military presence and influence in Europe," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
"We hope that reason will prevail and it will be possible to save the situation in Europe from sliding toward a military standoff, which could entail dangerous consequences," the ministry added.
Russian relations with the West have plunged to their lowest point since Cold War times over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for a pro-Russia separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. and the European Union have slapped Russia with economic sanctions, and Washington and its NATO allies have pondered an array of measures in response to Russia's moves.
U.S. expresses 'concern'
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, briefing the media via teleconference from Boston, where he is recovering from surgery on a broken leg, called Putin's announcement concerning.
"We're trying to move in the opposite direction," Kerry said. "We have had enormous co-operation from the 1990s forward with respect to the structure of nuclear weapons in the former territories of the Soviet Union. And no one wants to see us step backwards."
He said Putin could be posturing.
"It's really hard to tell," Kerry told reporters. "But nobody should hear that kind of an announcement from the leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about the implications."
The three Baltic members of the alliance — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have asked NATO to permanently deploy ground troops to their nations as a deterrent against an increasingly assertive Russia. Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak says he and U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter have held talks about placing U.S. heavy army equipment in Poland.
NATO defending allies
The NATO chief said he expected Carter to brief other alliance members on the proposal to stockpile tanks and other weapons and supplies in Eastern Europe during a NATO defence ministers meeting next week.
"I welcome all efforts to defend and protect allies," Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
Moscow bristled at the plans, warning Washington that the deployment of new U.S. weapons near Russian borders would foment dangerous instability in Europe.
The NATO chief said the alliance had to respond to Russia's actions by "increasing the readiness and the preparedness of our forces.
"We are responding by making sure that NATO also in the future is an alliance which provides deterrence and protection for all allies against any threat," Stoltenberg said.
In his speech at the arms show, Putin vowed to continue a big arms modernization program despite the nation's economic downturn.
"Over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of penetrating any, even the most technologically advanced missile defence systems, will join the nuclear forces in the current year," he said.
Last year, the Russian military received 38 ICBMs, according to Defence Minister SergeiShoigu. Modernizing the nation's nuclear forces is a top priority for the military, which needs to gradually decommission its aging Soviet-built ICBMs.
Putin said the rearmament program should help encourage the nation's economic growth and spearhead innovations. Independent experts warn, however, that a weapons upgrade that envisages spending 22 trillion rubles (around $500 billion) on new weapons through 2020 would be an unbearable burden now when the Russian economy has plunged into recession.