Vladimir Putin ups the nuclear ante against the West

Russia says it may be forced to aim weapons at Washington and cut strike time

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(Image credit: Alexy Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin has threatened to develop new long-range weapons to target Western capitals and cut nuclear strike times, in what has been interpreted as a serious but deliberate escalation in arms race rhetoric.

In a major speech on the state of the nation, the Russian president warned that if the West deployed new short and medium-range missiles in Europe that had the potential to reach Moscow in less than ten minutes, Russian missiles would be re-directed towards Western “centres of decision-making”.

The Guardian says “the threat, which appears to describe Washington and other western capitals, came after the United States and then Russia suspended compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty”.

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While emphasising Russia would not strike first, these were Putin’s “toughest remarks yet on a potential new arms race”, says Reuters, although he “did not confirm how, technically, Russia would deploy missiles with a shorter strike time”.

The news agency says “possible options include deploying them on the soil of an ally near US territory, deploying faster missiles on submarines, or using one of the hypersonic weapons Moscow says it has under development”.

Putin’s speech revealed details about a hypersonic missile called Tsirkon that could travel up to 1,000km and would be able to strike land targets.

“Nuclear saber-rattling has become key to the Kremlin’s projection of power both at home and abroad, and could be an attempt to bring Washington to the negotiating table,” says The Washington Post.

Last year, Putin used the address to unveil a new arsenal of weapons in a nearly two-hour speech “that stunned the West and many in Russia”, says the Daily Mail.

Following that speech his approval rating surged to its highest level since he came to power in 1999 but, “a year on, Putin has seen his popularity slide against a backdrop of economic problems”, says the Mail.

A hugely unpopular reform raising the age of retirement saw his approval rating drop to 64% in January, the lowest since before Moscow's annexation of Crimea five years ago. Another poll, by the Levada Centre taken last October around the time the pension reform was signed into law, found only 40% of Russians would vote for Putin if an election were held.

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