Putin says Russia to boost nuclear arsenal
President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia will boost its nuclear arsenal by more than 40 intercontinental missiles this year, in a move likely to further unnerve the West.
The declaration from the Kremlin strongman came as Russia reacted with fury to reports that the US is planning to bulk up its military deployments in eastern Europe, with tensions between Russia and the West are at their highest since the end of the Cold War over the conflict in Ukraine.
“This year the size of our nuclear forces will increase by over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles that will be able to overcome any, even the most technologically advanced, missile defence systems,” Putin said at the opening of an exhibition of military hardware outside Moscow.
Russia has an estimated 7,500 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, of which around 1,780 are deployed on missiles or at military bases.
The United States, in comparison, has some 7,300 warheads with 2,080 of them deployed.
Poland and other countries in eastern Europe have been rattled by Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where it annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014 before pro-Moscow separatists began fighting Kiev’s forces in the country’s east.
Kiev and its allies accuse Moscow of sending in troops and armour to back the separatist conflict, but Russia has denied the claims.
– Reports of US deployments –
NATO has moved to reassure Russia’s nervous Eastern European neighbours, launching US-led drills in the Baltic states and Poland earlier this month.
The New York Times reported at the weekend that the Pentagon was poised to station heavy weapons for up to 5,000 American troops in several Eastern European and Baltic countries to deter Russian aggression.
The proposal, if approved, would be the first time since the end of the Cold War that the US has had heavy military equipment — including battle tanks — in newer NATO members that were once under Moscow’s influence as part of the Soviet Union.
Poland said on Sunday it is in talks with the United States on the possibility of Washington storing heavy weaponry on its soil.
The US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said F-22 fighters jets could be deployed to Europe as the standoff with Moscow rumbles on, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Russia’s foreign ministry lashed out at the possible US deployment to the region, warning that the move by Washington could “take on a life of its own”.
“The United States is fuelling tensions and nurturing its European allies’ anti-Russian fears, also because it plans to use current tensions to expand its military presence and hence strengthen its influence in Europe,” the ministry said in a statement Monday.
Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov on Tuesday accused NATO of “pushing (Moscow) towards an arms race,” state-run agency RIA Novosti reported.
– Arms fair –
Putin on Tuesday toured the vast arms fair displaying Russia’s latest hardware, accompanied by senior defence officials, at a site outside the capital that is set to become a “Patriot Park” aimed at showcasing Moscow’s military might.
Putin, who enjoys sky-high approval ratings and has pumped vast sums into rebranding Russia’s once dysfunctional armed forces, praised the country’s military-industrial complex as a “locomotive for innovation”.
Many nations across Eastern Europe are jittery over Russia’s expansionism in Ukraine.
Moscow seized the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March 2014 after the toppling of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.
Russia has increasingly used more bellicose language as the standoff with the West has deepened, including pointing to the country’s nuclear arsenal.
In March Putin said that he had been ready to put the country’s nuclear forces on alert as he moved to annex Crimea.