While Obama was in Hiroshima in a historic trip as the first standing president of the only nation to have ever used a nuclear weapon during wartime, and warning about the dangers of nuclear power without offering an apology to Japan, Russian president Putin was in Greece seeking to resume where he left off one year ago, ahead of the turbulent Greece "referendum" and capital controls, following which the Greek people have turned increasingly against remaining in the Eurogroup, a shift Putin certainly hopes to capitalize on.
Tsipras commented on twitter:
Greek-Russian relations are an important element of our active, multidimensional foreign policy. We have upgraded our political dialogue 1/2— Alexis Tsipras (@tsipras_eu) May 27, 2016
His presence in Athens marks the strengthening of our relations during the past year. 2/2— Alexis Tsipras (@tsipras_eu) May 27, 2016
But it wasn't the latest Greek pivot toward Russia that was the highlight of Putin's trip: it was his latest warning that the Russian response to the most recent NATO provocation in Europe will be significant.
Recall that on May 12, in a dramatic development for the global nuclear balance of power, the United States launched its European missile defense system dubbed Aegis Ashore at a remote airbase in the town of Deveselu, Romania, almost a decade after Washington proposed protecting NATO from Iranian rockets and despite repeated Russian warnings that the West is threatening the peace in central Europe.
As we noted at the time, the US move was a clear defection from the carefully established Game Theory equilibrium in the aftermath of the nuclear arms race, one which explicitly removed a Russian "first strike threat", thereby pressuring Russia to implement further nuclear offensive and defensive measures: "the precarious nuclear balance of power in Europe has suddenly shifted, and quite dramatically: despite U.S. assurances, the Kremlin says the missile shield's real aim is to neutralize Moscow's nuclear arsenal long enough for the United States to make a first strike on Russia in the event of war."
And sure enough, making it very clear that this biggest yet provocation by the US and NATO is not forgotten, during a joint press conference with Tsipras in Greece, Putin warned Romania and Poland they could find themselves in the sights of Russian rockets because they are hosting elements of a U.S. missile shield that Moscow considers a threat to its security.
Putin, cited by Reuters, issued his starkest warning yet over the missile shield, saying that Moscow had stated repeatedly that it would have to take retaliatory steps but that Washington and its allies had ignored the warnings.
"If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the cross-hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security," Putin told a joint news conference in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "It will be the same case with Poland," he said.
"At the moment the interceptor missiles installed have a range of 500 kilometers, soon this will go up to 1000 kilometers, and worse than that, they can be rearmed with 2400km-range offensive missiles even today, and it can be done by simply switching the software, so that even the Romanians themselves won’t know."
Putin did not specify what actions Russia would take, but he insisted that it was not making the first step, only responding to moves by Washington. "We won't take any action until we see rockets in areas that neighbor us."
"We have the capability to respond. The whole world saw what our medium-range sea-based missiles are capable of [in Syria]. But we violate no agreements. And our ground-based Iskander missiles have also proven themselves as superb,” continued Putin.
Further undermining the Pentagon's provocative narrative, the Russian president said the argument that the project was needed to defend against Iran made no sense because an international deal had been reached to curb Tehran's nuclear program. The missiles that will form the shield can easily reach Russian cities, he said.
"How can that not create a threat for us?" Putin asked.
He voiced frustration that Russia's complaints about the missile shield had not been heeded. "We've been repeating like a mantra that we will be forced to respond... Nobody wants to hear us. Nobody wants to conduct negotiations with us."
And since nobody will negotiate with Russia, the Kremlin will have to take offensive measures into its own hands: we already know what the first one will be. Recall what then-president Dmitiry Medvedev said in November 2008: "Russia will deploy Iskander missile systems in its enclave in Kaliningrad to neutralize, if necessary, the anti-ballistic missile system in Europe."
Once Russian SS-26 tactical missile systems are again to be found on the borders of a Europe which suddenly as facing not only a a nuclear-armed opponent on its borders, but an ongoing - and in many cases malicious - immigrant influx within, then all bets about the peaceful future of the European continent, the main stated reason behind the creation of the EU and the Eurozone, will once again be off.
But not before NATO and the Pentagon respond in symmetric fashion and deploy more nuclear weapons of their own to Europe's eastern borders, and aim them squarely at Moscow, as the precarious post-cold war game theoretical equilibrium is completely destroyed. At that moment the new nuclear arms race will have fully returned.