Deploying emotional language and an animation of a cruise missile streaking toward North America, Russian President Vladimir Putin used an annual speech to his nation on Thursday to claim Russia was developing new nuclear weapons that he said could overcome any U.S. missile defenses.
Putin’s speech, less than three weeks before the Russian presidential election, represented an escalated level of martial rhetoric even by his pugnacious standards. For the first time, Putin claimed that Russia had successfully tested nuclear-propulsion engines that would allow nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and underwater drones to travel for virtually unlimited distances and evade traditional defenses.
He also warned that Moscow would consider a nuclear attack, of any size, on one of its allies to be an attack on Russia itself, and that it would lead to an immediate response. Putin did not specify which countries he considers allies.
Putin made clear that his declaration of Russian prowess was aimed squarely at the United States, which he accused of fomenting a new arms race by resisting arms-control negotiations, developing new missile-defense systems, and adopting a more aggressive posture in its nuclear strategy. In doing so, he said, the United States had failed to take seriously Russia’s strength.
“No one listened to us,” Putin said. “Listen to us now.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said U.S. officials were “not surprised” by Putin’s comments, but gave no details about the extent of knowledge on Russian military development.
She also rejected Putin’s suggestion that Russia needed to upgrade its firepower because of defensive buildups in the West.
“Our missile defense has never been about [Russia],” White told reporters.
Top U.S. generals have issued warnings for months about the development and deployment of new Russian cruise missiles, urging Congress and the Pentagon to step up technology that could better defend against them. Cruise missiles hug the terrain, flying low and fast, allowing them to evade radar and missile defense systems that are designed to shoot down missiles that fly more slowly and at an arc.
Russia has developed new cruise missiles “with the capability to hold targets at risk at ranges we haven’t seen before,” Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, which is assigned to defend the continental United States, said in Senate testimony in mid-February.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Anton Troianovski