Vladimir Putin said he will match any move by the United States to deploy new nuclear missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the US, or by deploying faster missiles, or both.
The Russian President said he was not seeking confrontation and would not take the first step to deploy missiles in response to the US Government’s decision this month to quit a landmark Cold War-era arms control treaty.
But, in his toughest remarks yet on a potential new arms race, he said Russia’s reaction to any deployment would be resolute and that US leaders should calculate the risks before taking any steps.
“It’s their right to think how they want, but can they count? I’m sure they can.
“Let them count the speed and the range of the weapons systems we are developing,” Mr Putin told Russia’s political elite, to strong applause.
“Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons that can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centres of decision-making are located,” he said.
“These weapons, by their tactical and technical specifications, including their flight time to the command centres I’m talking about, will fully correspond to the threats that will be directed against Russia.”
The US State Department dismissed Mr Putin’s comments as “propaganda” designed to divert attention from what Washington alleges are Moscow’s violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
The State Department said Washington was not developing “exotic new nuclear weapons delivery systems” and repeated its claim that Russia violates the INF treaty while the United States does not.
“President Putin’s remarks are a continuation of Russia’s propaganda effort to avoid responsibility for Russia’s actions in violation of the INF treaty,” a spokeswoman said.
Russian nuclear missiles already target the United States, and vice versa.
Mr Putin’s statement is likely to evoke memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the then-Soviet Union responded to a US missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a stand-off that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
The US Government said this month it was suspending its obligations under the 1987 INF treaty because of what it said were Moscow’s violations, starting the process of quitting it and untying its hands to develop new missiles.
Relocated missiles could reach Moscow in 10 minutes: Putin
Mr Putin said any US move to place new missiles in Europe would cut the time it took some US missiles to reach Moscow to 10 to 12 minutes.
Such a scenario, if left unmatched, would open up the possibility of Russia being hit by a nuclear strike before its own missiles fired in response could reach US territory.
The Russian land-based missiles that currently target the United States are based on Russian territory, and therefore the flight time to major US population centres would be longer than for US missiles deployed in Europe.
Mr Putin did not say how, technically, Russia would deploy missiles with a shorter strike time, but possible options include deploying them on the soil of an ally near US territory, deploying faster missiles on submarines, or using one of the hypersonic weapons Moscow says it has under development.
Mr Putin said a submarine called Poseidon would be launched this spring, which will be capable of carrying a new underwater drone with nuclear strike capability.
He also spoke of the successful development of a new hypersonic missile called Tsirkon.
Russian state television on Wednesday broadcast footage of Poseidon being tested for the first time, the RIA news agency reported.