The US has accused Russia of breaking its treaty obligations after President Vladimir Putin announced a new array of “invincible” nuclear weapons.
The US military stands ready to protect the nation, spokeswomen for the State Department and Pentagon asserted as they faced questions about Mr Putin’s declaration that “no anti-missile system – even in the future – has a hope of” stopping Russia’s new nuclear weapons.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Mr Putin confirmed what the US government has long known – that Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for more than a decade, violating its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The treaty, signed more than 30 years ago, eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 km and 1,000–5,500 km.
Mr Putin has frequently used militaristic rhetoric to mobilise support and to support his narrative that Russia is under siege from the West. Russians will head to the polls later this month for the country’s presidential election, a race that Mr Putin is expected to win.
On Thursday, he sought to back up his rhetoric with video clips of what he said were some of the new missiles. The images were projected onto a giant screen behind him at a conference hall in central Moscow where he was addressing Russian lawmakers and other leading figures.
In one such clip, a weapon appeared to be hovering over what appeared to be a map of the state of Florida.
“It was certainly unfortunate to have watched the video animation that depicted a nuclear attack on the United States,” Ms Nauert told reporters. “We don’t regard that as the behavior of a responsible international player.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the US needs to ensure it has “a credible nuclear deterrent, and we are confident that we are prepared to defend this nation no matter what.“
“This is not about defence, it’s about deterrence,” she said, adding that the Defence Department was not surprised by Mr Putin’s claims.
The rhetoric from Mr Putin was not unlike some of the recent boasts by President Donald Trump about the size and capability of the US nuclear arsenal.
Stanford professor Michael McFaul, who served as the US Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said Mr Putin’s announcement should be a wakeup call for President Donald Trump.
“Time to stop pretending that Vlad can be His friend. & also time to restart arms control negotiations with Moscow,” he tweeted.
Based on the responses of the Pentagon and State Department, the Trump administration appears to be prioritising a military approach – by highlighting Mr Trump’s pledge to “modernize and rebuild” the US nuclear arsenal – over diplomacy when it comes to dealing with the possible nuclear threat posed by Russia.
“Diplomacy, Mr President, is a team sport,” Mr McFaul said in another tweet. “Hire some people to help you !”
The Trump administration has been criticised for how understaffed the State Department is while the Pentagon continues to see increases in funding.
It is uncertain how Mr Putin’s threats in his speech will affect his relationship with Mr Trump, who has spoken highly of the Russian President in the past.
Mr Trump has admitted that relations between the US and Russia are is at a low and has sought to lessen tensions.
But alleged meddling by Russia in the US’s 2016 presidential election - behaviour the Kremlin denies – has complicated matters. Last year, Congress also passed legislation that toughened sanctions on Russia for its election interference and its annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.
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