Russia is set to deploy new missiles capable of overcoming NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense shield, according to President Vladimir Putin.
The missile defense shield is a major source of tension between NATO and Russia, and the issue has led to drastic action from Moscow, according to The Associated Press. Recent large-scale military exercises from both sides have raised tensions up a notch, and many analysts are worried about the prospect of conflict between the two sides.
Russia counters NATO missile shield with new strike weapons
Putin claims that NATO is attempting to neutralize Russia’s nuclear missiles in order to gain “decisive military superiority,” an eventuality that Russia will counterbalance by developing “strike systems capable of penetrating any missile defenses.”
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The Russian President addressed defense officials this Tuesday, telling them about the new weapons systems. “Over the past three years, companies of the military-industrial complex have created and successfully tested a number of prospective weapons systems that are capable of performing combat missions in a layered missile defense system. Such systems have already begun to enter the military this year. And now we are talking about development of new types of weapons,” Putin said.
The announcement comes at a hugely sensitive time, and observers believe that the relationship between Russia and NATO has deteriorated to a point not seen since the end of the Cold War. While the conflict in Ukraine and bombing campaigns in Syria are also to blame, the missile shield has been a source of bad feeling for years.
Putin says U.S. is lying over missile shield
Russian officials have protested against the shield, claiming that it would be capable of intercepting its nuclear missiles and rendering its nuclear deterrent useless. Meanwhile in the U.S., politicians have maintained the idea that the shield was to intercept rockets from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, and would not be able to effectively prevent Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal from striking its targets.
Now that Iran has signed a nuclear deal with six world powers, including the United States, it would appear that the threat from Iran has been neutralized. Putin has now taken the opportunity to question why the U.S. has continued to work on its missile shield given that one of its major purposes is no longer relevant.
“So, references to the Iranian and the North Korean nuclear missile threat just have served to cover up the true plans, and their true task is to neutralize nuclear potential of other nuclear powers, … Russia in particular,” Putin said. “Regrettably, our concerns and cooperation proposals haven’t been taken into account.”
Russia threatens European neighbors with nuclear arsenal
He later added that Russia could develop its own missile shield at some point in the future, but at the moment it is more concerned with developing new strike weapons. Putin claimed that missile systems have been tested “which are capable of performing combat tasks in spite of the multi-echelon missile defense system,” and “such systems have begun to enter combat duty this year.”
In June this year Putin made a similar claim, telling the press that the Russian armed forces would soon receive 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles that could penetrate any existing missile defense system. Russian officials have gone to great lengths to prevent more countries joining NATO’s missile defense system, while maintaining their campaign against its construction.
In March 2015 the Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, said that Russian missiles could be fired on Danish warships if Denmark became part of the shield. The Russian ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarinstev, made similar threats as the Scandinavian nation debated whether or not to join NATO.
NATO encroachment provokes fear in Russia
Tatarinstev said that Russia would take “countermeasures” if Sweden joined NATO, and accused the Swedish media of running an “aggressive propaganda campaign.” Despite an ongoing debate the Swedish public has increasingly expressed support for membership of the military alliance.
With NATO creeping further towards Russian borders Putin could be forgiven for feeling surrounded. The military alliance continues to grow, and now has troops and equipment stationed too close to the Russian border for comfort.
Putin has expressed his concern that the missile shield could also be used to deploy offensive weapons, and it also provides another worrying example of NATO military elements moving closer to Russian territory. Russia accuses NATO of breaking previous agreements which promised that a buffer zone would be maintained between Russia and NATO countries.
As the economic situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, many are wondering where Putin is finding the money to finance his promised military modernization plan. Continued Western sanctions, low oil prices and a devalued ruble mean that Russia is facing an uphill struggle to keep its economy afloat.