Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that his country will enhance its nuclear arsenal by adding more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), igniting immediate reaction from NATO and the United States.
“More than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles able to overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems will be added to the make-up of the nuclear arsenal this year,” Putin said at an arms fair west of Moscow speaking amidst high-ranking military officials.
Putin’s remarks came just a day after Russian officials said they would increase military presence in the country’s west in response to plans by NATO and the US to deploy heavy weaponry in Baltic States and Eastern Europe.
"Russia will have no option but to build up its forces and resources on the Western strategic front," Russian Defence Ministry official General Yuri Yakubov said on Monday.
According to a New York Times report on Saturday, the Pentagon was poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 troops in the NATO member countries neighbouring to Russia.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg quickly responded to Putin saying “This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified, it's destabilising and it's dangerous.”
“This is something we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces," Stoltenberg added.
ICBMs can hit targets farther than 5,500 km, which is more than two times the distance between Moscow and London.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry also reacted to Putin’s announcement saying he is concerned by it.
“Nobody should hear that kind of announcement from the leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about what the implications are,” Kerry said.
In an effort to mutually decrease their nuclear arsenal, Washington and Moscow have agreed to Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 2010 which limits deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 on each side and aims to reduce the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers to 800 by 2018.
Despite the deal, Putin called on to maintain Russia’s nuclear deterrence to counter security threats coming from the West
The tension between Russia and the NATO allies have been rising since Moscow annexed Crimea in March 2014 and gave its military and political support to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics inside Ukraine.
Since then, the US and the European Union have been imposing economic sanctions on Russia, to press Putin to pull out of Ukraine, yet Russia defied the Western demands so far.
“There are other things we need to be doing in recognition of the fact that, at the moment at least, Vladimir Putin does not seem to be reversing course," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on June 5, following a meeting with high-ranking security officials stationed in Europe foreshadowing the recently revealed plans to increase military presence near Russian border.
Poland and the Baltic states were in hurry to get the US military support since last year when the Euro-Atlantic allies reached on a "prepositioning" military equipment in Eastern Europe at the NATO summit in Wales.
Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas endorsed US military deployments in former Soviet Bloc and Warsaw Pact states in Baltics and Eastern Europe saying it is vital to ensure their security.
"We have no other possibilities. If we did nothing, we would be provoking Russia for aggression, like it was in... Ukraine," Olekas said.
"The feeling is that our colleagues from NATO countries are pushing us into an arms race," Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said during the arms fair, according to Russian RIA news agency.