It’s back on again.
In a threat not uttered since the Cold War, Vladimir Putin said that Russia intends to aim its missile systems – potentially nuclear weapons – at targets in Europe in retaliation for the U.S. decision to establish antimissile bases there.
During a lengthy dinner, Russia’s President defended his semi-authoritarian style and insisted he is the world’s only true democrat. In an interview with The Globe and Mail and a small circle of other journalists, he stressed that his country is not moving away from a market economy, refused to consider extraditing a former KGB agent charged with poisoning a dissident in London, and lashed out repeatedly at the United States and NATO for operating in countries previously within Russia’s sphere of influence.
Mr. Putin’s remarks, translated from Russian, virtually guarantee much of the G8 summit, due to begin in northern Germany on Wednesday, will be dominated by the growing confrontation between the West and Russia.
Mr. Putin repeatedly described U.S. antimissile bases, which will be built in the Czech Republic and Poland, both former Warsaw Pact countries, as “an element of the nuclear potential of the United States,” and that the alleged threat from Iranian missiles is a myth. Washington says that the bases are purely defensive and designed to shoot down missiles launched at the United States from Iran or other rogue states.
President Putin has warned the US that its deployment of a new anti-missile network across Eastern Europe would prompt Russia to point its own missiles at European targets and could trigger nuclear war.
In an exclusive interview with The Times, the Russian leader says: “It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the US is located in Europe and will be threatening us, we will have to respond.
“This system of missile defence on one side and the absence of this system on the other . . . increases the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict.”
Russia has been alarmed at America’s plans to install a network of defences in Eastern Europe to shoot down incoming missiles it fears that Iran might launch.
Mr Putin expressed scepticism of this motive, arguing that “There are no such missiles – Iran does not have missiles with the range”. The US was insisting, he said, that the defence system was to be “installed for the protection from something that does not exist. Is it not sort of funny? It would be funny if it were not so sad.”
He speculated that the US’s real motive was to provoke Russia’s retaliation and so “to avoid further closeness of Russia and Europe”.
In a June 1 interview with journalists from G8 countries, Putin showed no sign of backing down, saying Russia is being forced to take “retaliatory steps” for the U.S. missile-defense shield planned for deployment in Europe.If the West is going to be aggressive with Russia, Putin made clear, then Russia is going to be aggressive with the West.
“If a new missile-defense system is deployed in Europe, then we need to warn you today that we will come with a response. We have to ensure our security, and we are not the initiators of this process,” Putin said.