NATO as well as German, French, and U.S. leaders have expressed concerns after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country has deployed or is developing an array of new nuclear-capable weapons.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump said in a telephone call that the weapons would have a negative impact on “international arms control efforts,” according to a German government statement on March 2.
The White House said Trump also spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron and that both leaders “shared their serious concerns” about Putin’s remarks.
In his annual state-of-the-nation speech on March 1, Putin boasted that Russia had developed new weapons, claiming many of them could hit almost any part of the world and evade U.S. anti-missile defenses.
Speaking before hundreds of top officials and lawmakers 17 days before an election that seems certain to hand him a new six-year term, Putin set out ambitious domestic goals and issued defiant warnings to the West, which he accused of trying to hold Russia back.
Putin’s warnings to NATO allies made during his speech were “unacceptable and counterproductive,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement on March 2 quoted by Reuters.
“We do not want a new Cold War or a new arms race,” she said, also repeating that NATO’s U.S.-built missile-defense system in Europe was “not aimed at Russia”.
Reacting to Putin’s remarks, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on March 1 that Russia had been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade “in violation of its treaty obligations”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on March 2 denied Russia was in breach of any international arms-control pacts.
Peskov also said that Putin’s speech would not increase Russia’s international isolation and did not herald the start of a new arms race.
“Russia does not plan to get dragged into any arms race,” Peskov said.
During an interview broadcast late on March 1 in the United States, Putin said that Russia would only use nuclear weapons in extraordinary circumstances.
“There are two reasons that can prompt us to use nuclear weapons: a nuclear weapons attack against us or an attack using conventional weapons when the Russian state’s existence is threatened,” he told NBC TV.
When asked about the readiness of new weapons, Putin was not specific, but said that “some still have to be fine-tuned and worked on. Others are already available to the troops and battle-ready.”
During his March 1 speech, Putin said Russia had tested new nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and a nuclear-capable underwater drone that, he claimed, would be impossible to intercept.
Using colorful graphics and video, Putin said the high-speed underwater drone capable of carrying a nuclear warhead could target both aircraft carriers and coastal facilities.
Putin said that Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat, with a range and number of warheads exceeding its predecessor.
Putin contended that Russia was forced to upgrade its nuclear arsenal after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002.
Putin said Russia warned it would take such measures in 2004, but that the West didn’t want to talk with Russia.
“No one listened to us then. So listen to us now,” Putin said to thunderous applause in the speech, which was held at a venue just outside the Kremlin and televised live nationwide.