Putin Says Russia 'Stronger Than Any Potential Aggressor'
RFE/RL December 22, 2016
President Vladimir Putin has asserted that Russia's military is now stronger than any possible attacker but must be prepared to "adjust plans to neutralize potential threats to our country."
"We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor," Putin said on December 22. "Any."
Speaking at an annual end-of-year meeting at the Defense Ministry in Moscow, Putin said Russia needs to strengthen its nuclear potential and ensure it has missiles that can "reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile-defense systems."
Separately, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on December 22 called for the United States to expand its own nuclear capabilities.
Trump tweeted that "the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."
A Trump spokesman, Jason Miller, said later that "President-elect Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it -- particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes."
Trump is vacationing in Florida before taking office on January 20.
The separate statements from Putin and Trump calling for strengthening of their respective nuclear capabilities comes despite both countries having committed to caps on their nuclear arsenals under the 2010 New START treaty.
Those commitments were one of main achievements of U.S. President Barack Obama's first-term effort to mend ties with Russia.
One U.S. nuclear arms expert, Steven Pifer, tweeted in response to Trump's message that the United States "has robust nuclear forces and plans to modernize strategic triad. No need to expand. Should instead engage Russia on reducing nukes." Pifer is director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Ties between Russia and the United States have chilled in recent years, notably with Russia's military seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and the war between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The separate statements by Putin and Trump also come despite recent signals from both leaders that they will seek to improve U.S.-Russian relations under a Trump presidency.
Much of Putin's end-of-year meeting at the Defense Ministry was shown on state TV.
Critics say Putin often uses talk of military might and what he says are potential threats from abroad to incite patriotism and draw attention away from domestic problems in Russia.
Putin said Russia "must carefully monitor any changes in the balance of power and in the political-military situation in the world, especially along Russia's borders."
He also called a missile-defense system the United States and NATO are building in Europe a threat to Russia's security, something Washington says is not the case.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told the meeting that the military has successfully shown its capabilities in Syria, where a Russian air campaign has supported President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.
The military has "tested 162 types of modern armaments during military campaign in Syria," including warplanes and helicopters, he said.
With reporting by AP, AFP, TASS, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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