This candid conversation took place with representatives of various media outlets during the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, in June 2016. Putin urged journalists to report genuinely on the impending danger that is a nuclear arms race.
Back in 2002, the United States unilaterally and without consultation, withdrew from the landmark Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. President George W. Bush noted that the treaty is “now behind us,” describing the ABM Treaty as a Cold War relic. Signed in 1972, the ABM Treaty barred both the US and the USSR from deploying national defenses against long-range ballistic missiles. The treaty was based on the premise that if either superpower constructed a strategic defense, the other would build up its offensive nuclear forces to offset the defense. The superpowers would therefore quickly be put on a path toward a never-ending offensive-defensive arms race, as each tried to balance its counterpart’s actions. Until Bush took office, the Treaty was referred to as a “cornerstone of strategic stability” because it facilitated later agreements, reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. The US, assuming that a weakened Russia will never again be in a position to counter US hegemonic power, proceeded to encroach on Russia’s borders through its manipulation of NATO objectives
In 2007, Putin informed the Western world that Russia will develop its weaponry to counter US advances. This was said in response to the US missile defense system that was starting to be developed at the time (previously prohibited in international law.) With the US/NATO BMD system now on Russia’s doorstep – the threat to international security is very real; not that you would know it via mainstream media.
Today, there is no instrument in international law that prevents the possibility of mutually assured destruction. Putin has been sending out warnings for over 10 years – all of which fell on deaf ears. Who will push the button first?
Transcript of Putin’s speech from June 21, 2016, given to heads of international news agencies
“As for the missile defence system, look, people in this audience are all adults and are very experienced. I am not asking you to mirror everything I am about to say word for word in your coverage or to influence press coverage. I just want to tell you something in person, and remind you of some things. After all, the world is free of large-scale wars or military conflict, and we all know that. This is due to the so-called strategic balance that emerged when two nuclear super powers agreed to limit their offensive and missile-defence arsenals. Everyone understands that if one side is more successful in developing its missile defence than the other, it gains an edge and has the temptation to be the first to use these weapons. It is for this reason that missile defence and agreements in this regard are one of the cornerstones of international security.
It is not at all my intention to berate or accuse anyone of anything, but when our US partners unilaterally withdrew [from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty], this was a major blow. In fact, this was the first blow to international stability in terms of upsetting the strategic balance of power. I said back then, “We are currently unable to develop this technology due to the high costs, and secondly, it has yet to be seen how it will work. Instead of simply siphoning off money, we will go the other way by improving Russia’s offensive weapons in order to maintain the balance. This was the only purpose, and it had nothing to do with threatening anyone.” Here is what we heard in response: “It is true that our missile defence system is not intended to oppose Russia, and we assume that what you do is not against us, so you may do as you please.”
I can explain this by saying, as I did at the plenary session today, that it was the early 2000s when Russia was in a very complicated situation, with a ruined economy, an actual civil war and the fight against terrorism in the Caucasus, the defence industry collapsing and the Armed Forces dramatically weakened. Who could imagine then that Russia would build up its strategic weapons? They probably thought that the weapons Russia inherited from the Soviet Union would eventually become degraded. And so they told us to go ahead and do what we wanted. However, we informed them about our plans, which we are implementing. Trust me: Russia has moved a long way on this path. I will not read out the entire list, but I can tell you that we have modernised our weapons and are creating new-generation systems, not to mention the weapons that are designed to penetrate ballistic missile defence systems.
Despite all our objections and offers of real cooperation, our partners do not want to cooperate with us; they have rejected all of our proposals and are working to their own plans. I believe it inappropriate to say certain things in public, but I can assure you, and you can choose to believe me or not, that we offered practical cooperation alternatives that were rejected.
Eventually, they built a BMD system in Romania. They kept saying that they were doing this to protect themselves against an Iranian nuclear threat. But where is this threat now? It does not exist. We have signed a treaty with Iran, and it was the United States that initiated it. We did our best, helping as much as we could, but the treaty was only made possible through the position of the US. This success should be credited to President Obama. I believe it is a good treaty, which has eased tensions around Iran, and President Obama should definitely give himself the credit for this.
Anyway, there is no Iranian threat, but the BMD system is being built nevertheless.This might mean that we were right when we suspected our partners of being insincere, of deceiving us with references to an alleged Iranian nuclear threat. Yes, this is how it was; they attempted to cheat us again.
They have built this system and are now delivering missiles there. You probably know that the launch systems of the Tomahawk sea-launched intermediate-range missiles will be used to launch anti-missiles with an effective range of 500 kilometres. However, technology does not stand still, and we know more or less precisely when the Americans will create a new missile that will have a range of 1,000 kilometres or more. From that time on, they will be a threat to our nuclear arsenals.[Putin is referring here to the planned deployment of the hypersonic SM-3 Block IIA and IIB interceptors in Poland and elsewhere]
We know what will happen and in which year, and they know we know it. They are just throwing dust in our eyes, as the saying goes, and you in turn are throwing dust in the eyes of your people. What bothers me is that people are not aware of the danger. We fail to understand that we are dragging the world into a completely new dimension. This is what this is all about. They are pretending as if nothing is going on. I do not even know how to put my message across.
We are being told that this is part of a defensive, not offensive, capability, that these systems are intended to ensure defence against aggression. This is not true. This is not the way things are. A strategic missile defence system is part of an offensive strategic capability, and is tightly linked to offensive missile strike systems. Some high-precision weapons are used to carry out a pre-emptive strike, while others serve as a shield against a retaliatory strike, and still others carry out nuclear strikes. All these objectives are related, and go hand in hand with the use of high-precision conventional weapons.
All right, even if we put aside the interceptor missiles that will be developed in the future, increasingly threatening Russia, but the launch tubes where these missiles are stored, as I said, are the same that are used on navy ships to carry Tomahawk missiles. You can replace interceptor missiles with Tomahawks in a matter of hours and these tubes will no longer be used to intercept missiles. How do we know what is inside them? All they need is to change the software. This can be done seamlessly; even the Romanians would not know what is going on, since they cannot access these facilities, right? No one will know, neither the Romanians, nor the Poles. I know how this is done. In my opinion, this is a major threat.[this is substantiated by the published specifications of the Mark 41 launch system used in the Aegis Ashore BMD facilities, which can launch a variety of missiles, see https://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed-martin/rms/documents/naval-launchers-and-munitions/MK41_VLS_Vertical_Launching_System_Product%20Card_8.5x11_042419.pdf ]
When we discussed this with our US partners, they had the idea of creating nonnuclear ballistic missiles. We said, “Listen, do you understand what this would be? Imagine that you fire a submarine-launch or land-based missile. A ballistic missile is launched. How do we know whether it is carrying a nuclear warhead or not? Do you understand the kind of threat this would create?” As far as we know, this programme is currently suspended. They have stopped it for now. However, they are still working on it.
I do not know where this will take us. However, Russia will definitely have to retaliate. I know already that we will be accused of acting aggressively, even though all we do is respond. It is clear that we will have to ensure security, and not just in Russia, since ensuring the strategic balance of power globally is a matter of great importance for us.
I would like to conclude my answer with what I started with: it is the strategic balance that ensured and guaranteed peace on the planet, sparing us from major military conflict over the last 70 years. This should be viewed as good, even though it is based on mutual threat. However, this mutual threat brought about global peace for decades. I do not know how anyone could want to destroy it. I believe that this would be very dangerous. Not only do I believe it, I am certain of it.