Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a chilling warning Thursday about the rising threat of a nuclear war, putting the blame squarely on the U.S., which he accused of irresponsibly pulling out of arms control treaties.
Speaking at his annual news conference, Putin warned that “it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet.”
He pointed at Washington’s intention to walk away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, and its reluctance to negotiate the extension of the 2010 New START agreement, which expires in 2021 unless the two countries agree to extend it. “We are witnessing the breakup of the arms control system,” he said.
Moscow and Washington have been at loggerheads over the INF, which bans an entire class of weapons — all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles of intermediate range. U.S. officials say Washington’s withdrawal from the pact was prompted by Russian violations of the treaty, which Moscow vehemently denies.
Earlier this month NATO, at U.S. request formally declared Russia to be in violation of the INF and demanded that it halt activity that breaches it. The move put the full weight of the alliance behind the U.S., which has given Russia until February to come into compliance or trigger Washington’s withdrawal from the treaty.”
Officials in both Russia and the U.S. have given mixed signals about the future of the New START treaty, signed by President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev amid a brief thaw in Russia-U.S. ties. U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear weapons — those capable of striking each other’s territory — are governed by New Start.
During the nearly four-hour news conference, Putin maintained Russia was not interested in “gaining unilateral advantages. We aren’t seeking advantages, we are trying to preserve the balance and ensure our security.”