MOSCOW — Russia will respond to any American deployment of short or intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe by targeting not only the countries where they are stationed, but the U.S. itself, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
In his toughest remarks yet on a potential new arms race, Putin said Russia was not seeking confrontation and would not take the first step to deploy missiles in response to Washington's decision this month to quit a landmark Cold War-era arms control treaty.
But he said that U.S. policymakers, some of whom he said were obsessed with U.S. exceptionalism, should calculate the risks before taking any steps.
"It's their right to think how they want. But can they count? I'm sure they can. Let them count the speed and the range of the weapons systems we are developing," Putin told Russia's political elite to strong applause. "Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons which can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centers of decision-making are located."
Alleging Russian violations, Washington said this month it was suspending its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and starting the process of quitting it, untying its hands to develop new missiles.
The pact banned either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe and its demise raises the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow.
Russia denies violating the INF treaty. Putin responded to the U.S. move by saying Russia would mirror the U.S. moves by suspending its own obligations and quitting the pact.
He said any U.S. decision to place new missiles in Europe would leave Moscow with no choice but to respond because it would drastically cut the time it took U.S. missiles to reach Russia, something that would pose a direct threat.
He said Russia wanted good ties with the United States, but was ready with its defensive response if necessary.