Russia must develop new offensive weapons to counter US missile defences and prevent US policymakers from feeling they can “do whatever they want,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said.
“To preserve the balance, we must develop offensive weapons systems, not missile defence systems as the United States is doing,” Putin said during a visit to the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok.
“The problems of missile defence and offensive arms are very closely linked,” the powerful Russian prime minister said in comments broadcast on state television.
“By building such an umbrella over themselves our partners could feel themselves fully secure and will do whatever they want, which upsets the balance.
“Aggressiveness immediately increases in real politics and economics” in this situation, he added.
Putin’s comments — coming on the heels of a similar statement by President Dmitry Medvedev — marked a toughening of Moscow’s stance on strategic security ties with the United States.
The former Cold War foes are in talks on a successor to the now-expired START nuclear disarmament treaty.
They had hoped to complete a new pact by year’s end, but the talks are still in progress and no new agreement is expected before next month at the earliest.
President Barack Obama announced last July plans to “reset” troubled US ties with Russia. Two months later, he cancelled plans to deploy elements of a new US missile shield in eastern Europe, near Russia’s borders.
Moscow had fiercely opposed those plans, pushed by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and at first cautiously welcomed Washington’s decision.
Obama however made clear US intentions to continue work on a new missile defence system elsewhere, and Putin’s comments Tuesday marked the sharpest language heard from Moscow in some time on US missile defence plans.
Putin said Washington should share its missile defence plans with Moscow if it wanted to ease Russian alarm on the issue.
“Let the Americans hand over all their information on missile defence and we are ready to hand over all the information on offensive weapons systems,” he said.
Medvedev earlier this month said Russia would continue to develop a new generation of nuclear missiles even as the START successor talks continued.
Moscow is asserting a right to build new strategic missiles and seeking concessions on this issue from US negotiators in disarmament talks in Geneva, defence analyst Alexander Konovalov said.
The Russian military wants to roll out new long-range missiles to compensate for terms in the old START treaty which it viewed as asymmetrical, favorable to the United States and still impacting the strategic balance today, he added.
Putin however said START negotiations were “developing positively.”
His remarks bolster a view that Putin, who preceded Medvedev as president, still has considerable sway in shaping Russian foreign policy, a prerogative which under the constitution should be the purview of Medvedev.
“This is not his sphere, but Putin is showing he is not weaker than Medvedev,” Konovalov added.
START, signed in 1991 just before the collapse of the USSR, led to deep cuts in the Russian and US nuclear arsenals but expired without a replacement on December 5.
Russia has long pushed for a link between offensive and defensive weapons in a new START treaty, and such language was part of a joint declaration on disarmament by Medvedev and Obama after their Moscow summit July.