Russia threatens to point nuclear missiles at European cities

Monday, June 4, 2007

Heiligendamm security fence at location of 2007 G8 Summit.
Image: Nora110..

Just two days before the G-8 Summit is scheduled to begin, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated during an interview on Sunday that Russia will point their nuclear missiles at major European cities if the United States sets up any kind of missile defense system in Europe. Putin also said that a new cold war has begun with "the west" and that a "new arms race" has begun.

This statement came after the U.S. announced plans to build several missile defense systems based in Poland and the Czech Republic. These defense systems will include radars and missile interceptors. The U.S. states that the planned defense system is to stop incoming nuclear missiles from North Korea and Iran.

Putin says the planned missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic will put "an integral part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal" on Russia's doorstep and upset the world strategic balance.

When Putin was asked by a reporter if Russia would consider pointing their nuclear missiles at Europe, Putin replied "of course we are returning to those times. It is clear that if a part of the US nuclear capability turns up in Europe, and, in the opinion of our military specialists will threaten us, then we are forced to take corresponding steps in response."

Putin continues: "What will those steps be? Naturally, we will have to have new targets in Europe. We want to be heard, we want our position to be understood. But if that does not happen, we lift from ourselves any responsibility for the steps we take in response, because we are not the ones who are initiating the arms race in Europe." Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia removed European targets from its rocket guidance systems.

During the interview in question, Putin also jokingly called himself the world's only "absolute and pure democrat.":

DER SPIEGEL: Mr President, former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called you a ‘pure democrat’. Do you consider yourself such?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: (laughs) Am I a ‘pure democrat’? Of course I am, absolutely. But do you know what the problem is? Not even a problem but a real tragedy? The problem is that I’m all alone, the only one of my kind in the whole wide world. Just look at what’s happening in North America, it’s simply awful: torture, homeless people, Guantanamo, people detained without trial and investigation. Just look at what’s happening in Europe: harsh treatment of demonstrators, rubber bullets and tear gas used first in one capital then in another, demonstrators killed on the streets. That’s not even to mention the post-Soviet area. Only the guys in Ukraine still gave hope, but they’ve completely discredited themselves now and things are moving towards total tyranny there; complete violation of the Constitution and the law and so on. There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died.

President Putin also hinted that he will not go into retirement and find himself another job when his second term expires next year. "I am far from pension age and it would be absurd just to sit at home doing nothing," he told a group of reporters invited to dinner over the weekend.

In a U.S. Department of State press briefing, Monday, spokesman Sean McCormack expressed some surprise at Putin's comments. "They have more of the ring of 1977 than they do 2007. So, you know, I don't know quite what to make of it," said McCormack. "But it's just very surprising, especially given the...the new realities of not only the Russian relationship with the United States but also the Russian relationship with Europe."

When asked whether the Bush administration had any regrets on how they've handled the missile defense initiative, McCormack acknowledged some mistakes. "Well, look, you can always do things better. Even if you assume that somehow we got off...on the wrong foot with regard to the missile defense plans for Europe, that doesn't really account for this continuing rhetoric that Russia keeps harping on," he said. "We want Russia to participate in this program. We've made that offer. It's going to be up to them whether or not they participate in it," continued McCormack.

McCormack described the potential missile defense system in Europe as having limited capabilities and would be capable of intercepting only low numbers of incoming missiles. He used the argument to counter Putin's concerns. "As President Putin himself made the point, the Russian Government could easily overwhelm such a missile defense system. We agree. It's not designed to defend against Russia," explained McCormack.

Putin will be meeting directly with President Bush during the G-8 summit, which begins Wednesday.