MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Friday described the development of NATO's U.S.-led missile defense program as a threat to global security and vowed that Russia will take the necessary steps to maintain a strategic parity.
Putin, speaking at a meeting with military officials, scoffed at U.S. claims that the shield isn't aimed against Russia but instead intended to fend off a missile threat from Iran. The system includes a site in Romania that became operational Thursday and a site in northern Poland where U.S. and Polish officials broke ground Friday for a facility due to be ready in 2018.
"Just a few years ago, our partners in the West, in Europe and the United States, were all speaking in one voice, telling us that they need a missile defense system to protect from missile and nuclear threats from Iran," Putin said, adding that such a threat has ceased to exist after last year's nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. "The threat is gone, but the creation of the missile defense system is continuing."
Putin said Russia "will do everything needed to ensure and preserve the strategic balance, which is the most reliable guarantee from large-scale military conflicts," but will not get drawn into an arms race.
Earlier this week, Col. Gen. Sergei Karakayev, chief of the Russian military's Strategic Missile Forces, said new types of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles accelerate faster and are equipped with maneuverable warheads, making them more difficult to intercept.
In another potential response, the military has talked about stationing its state-of-the art Iskander missiles to Russia's westernmost Baltic outpost of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. Last year, the missiles were airlifted there during military maneuvers in a demonstration of their swift deployment capability, but were pulled back to their permanent base after the drills.
The Iskander missiles, which have a range of up to 500 kilometers (300 miles), would put most of Poland in reach if deployed from the Kaliningrad region.
Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister in charge of military industries, said after the meeting with Putin that Russia will use technologies that would allow it to "neutralize any threat with minimal resources." He didn't elaborate.
Russia has long described the U.S.-led missile shield as a top security challenge. Russian military officials have said while the current system doesn't pose a threat to Russia's massive nuclear missile force, it could erode the nation's nuclear deterrent when it grows more powerful in the future.
"They aren't defensive systems, they are part of the U.S. strategic nuclear potential deployed on the periphery, in eastern Europe," Putin said. "Now, after the deployment of those missile defense elements, we will have to think about how we can fend off the threats to the Russian Federation's security."