Russian President Vladimir Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying Wednesday that Russia will retaliate by fielding new weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets.
While the Russian leader didn’t say what specific new weapons Moscow could deploy, his statement further raised the ante in tense relations with Washington.
Speaking in his state-of-the-nation address, Putin charged that the U.S. has abandoned a key arms control pact to free up its hands to build new missiles and tried to shift the blame for the move to Russia.
“Our American partners should have honestly said it instead of making unfounded accusations against Russia to justify their withdrawal from the treaty,” Putin said.
The U.S. has accused Russia of breaching the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty by deploying a cruise missile that violates its limits — the accusations Moscow has rejected.
The INF treaty banned production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).
The intermediate-range weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they take shorter time to reach their targets compared to the intercontinental ballistic missiles. That would leave practically no time for decision-makers, raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.
Putin reaffirmed that Russia will not be the first to deploy new intermediate-range missiles but warned of a quick retaliation if the U.S. puts such weapons in Europe.
“They will only take 10-12 minutes to reach Moscow,” he said. “It’s a very serious threat to us, and we will have to respond.”
He didn’t directly mention the U.S., but noted that the Russian response will be “asymmetrical” and involve new weapons will reach the enemy’s decision-making centers just as quickly.
“Russia will be forced to create and deploy new types of weapons that could be used not only against the territories where a direct threat to us comes from, but also against the territories where decision-making centers directing the use of missile systems threatening us are located,” he said. “The capability of such weapons, including the time to reach those centers, will be equivalent to the threats against Russia.”
Putin has confirmed that Russia is building a new hypersonic missile that can be launched from ships or submarines and travel at almost 2 miles per second.
Putin used his state of the nation address on Wednesday to publicly confirm that the cruise missile was well under development.
“This is a hypersonic missile called Tsirkon. It will have the speed of mach 9, it has a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and can hit navy or land targets.”
The Russian leader added the missile could be launched from a ship or submarine and costs would be kept low by its compatibility with the existing Kalibr missile system.
In December, CNBC learned that a U.S. Intelligence report had highlighted testing of the Tsirkon hypersonic system, noting that five tests had been carried out by the Russian military since 2015.
Putin has previously described Russia’s hypersonic prowess as “invincible” and accused “those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years” of failing to contain Russia.
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