Multiple Russian state media outlets are reporting that President Vladimir Putin has stressed that Russia has a right to respond to US military build-up in Europe while furthering its strategic nuclear deterrence capabilities in a speech delivered before a Defense Ministry meeting on Friday in the city of Balashikha outside of Moscow.
At the same meeting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that NATO has doubled the number of its military drills since 2012 in the vicinity of Russia's borders, noting that Russia is carefully monitoring what it considers hostile NATO build-up and intensified surveillance operations along Russian borders. The defense minister further indicated that the number of NATO-member country troops stationed near Russian borders has tripled, growing from 10 to 40 thousand in three years, saying "In the Baltic states and Poland, four battalion-tactical groups, an armored brigade of the US Army, headquarters of NATO multinational divisions in Poland and Romania are deployed."
Since the crisis in Ukraine (which began in 2014) and Russia's subsequent annexation of the Crimea, an Obama administration policy of steady build-up and periodic war games has been in place in East European and the Baltic countries, including Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. A little under a year ago a Reuters report acknowledged that NATO has been "expanding its presence in the region to levels unprecedented since the Cold War" - something which the Pentagon has long touted as defensive in nature.
And just this week news broke that after months of indecision over whether or not to move forward with Obama-era legislation which initially paved the way for legalizing US arms sales to Ukraine, Trump has approved the first ever US commercial sale of weapons to the Kiev government, which Moscow sees as an illegitimate puppet regime supported by the West. According to The Washington Post, "administration officials confirmed that the State Department this month approved a commercial license authorizing the export of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million. These weapons address a specific vulnerability of Ukrainian forces fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement in two eastern provinces."
Meanwhile, it is likely that Putin's words are to some extent a calculated response to news of the unexpected approval of US arms exports to Ukraine, which was reported on Wednesday. Putin characterized Washington's new national security strategy as "aggressive" and "definitely offensive" according to Russia's TASS news agency.
Putin said that both the US and NATO have been "accelerating build-up of infrastructure in Europe" in violation of the 1987 treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. He said concerning the new and expanding US missile defense system now based in Poland that they are not merely defensive in nature but offensive weapons: "The point is, and specialists know about it very well, those launchers are all-purpose. They can also be used with existing sea-launched cruise missiles with the flight range of up to 2,500 km [1,550 miles]. And in this case, these missiles are no longer sea-launched missiles, they can be easily moved to land," Putin said.
He added further that Russia's Defense Ministry "should take into account" Western military strategies and that "Russia has a sovereign right and all possibilities to adequately and in due time react to such potential threats."
And notably concerning Putin's reference to nuclear weapons and infrastructure, TASS summarizes the following:
There are efforts to disrupt strategic parity through deployment of global anti-missile defense system and other strike systems "equatable to nuclear weapons," the Russian leader told military officials. At the moment, Russia's strategic nuclear forces are a reliable deterrent to such a military build-up, he added. However, it is necessary to develop them further, Putin said. "I'm talking about missile systems fit to steadily counter not only existing, but also future ABMs."
This comes as earlier this week another spine-chilling scare story involving the Russians and Putin's plan for supposed global domination spread widely in Western media after two major European tabloids published sensational headlines on Wednesday claiming that, according to the UK's largest tabloid The Sun, Russia secretly practiced full-scale invasion of Europe with bombing raids on Germany during Russia's September "Zapad" (West) military drills.
Graphic purporting to show Russia's September pre-planned "Zapad" military drills. The UK Sun tabloid published it along with the following scaremongering and false headline: "Russia secretly practised full-scale invasion of Europe with bombing raids on Germany during Vladimir Putin’s military drills."
However, analysis of the Russian military games produced by Chatham House (essentially the UK version of The Council on Foreign Relations, or CFR) admitted that the exercise was "small, managed, and contained" while being defensive in nature as "a dress rehearsal for defending against a NATO intervention" and meant to send a message to the West, saying "This is what Russia wants the West to believe is the Kremlin’s understanding of what a conventional war between Russia and NATO forces would look like."
The Chatham House analysis further commented that the West's previous "scaremongering" over the periodic military games (and lately revived this week in the media) is actually affirming the Russian perspective - that NATO-driven threat inflation and scare tactics are really what's driving current tensions and build-up between the two sides.
According to Chatham House:
Western commentators were obsessed with the numbers of Russian troops being mobilized during the course of exercise and stuck firmly to the "100,000 servicemen" narrative. But Russia proved them wrong by keeping the drills small, managed, and contained.
The Kremlin could therefore credibly claim that the West overreacted and fell victim to scaremongering and reporting rumors that Moscow was not being transparent about the nature of the exercise and its intentions.
Considering that Chatham House is at the heart of the UK's political and defense establishment, this is a remarkably candid admission from a source that's usually hawkish on the perceived Russian threat of anti-NATO military expansion.
But perhaps as US and NATO military bases have increasingly encroached on Russia's borders over the last two decades, it is finally becoming obvious and undeniable even to the most establishment of Western pundits that Putin has a reason to build up Russian defenses in equal measure.