Russia vows to target US if Washington deploys nuclear weapons in Europe

Vladimir Putin’s comments come less than one month after the United States and Russia shredded a historic nuclear arms agreement

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, delivers a state-of-the-nation address in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying that Russia will retaliate by fielding new weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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Vladimir Putin on Wednesday vowed to target American and European “decision-making centres” with nuclear arms if intermediate-range warheads are located on the continent.

The Russian president's stark comments came during his annual state of the nation address. They mark a serious escalation in rhetoric between Russia and the United States since both sides vowed to quit a Soviet-era arms control treaty earlier this month.

If the US deploys missiles previously banned under the treaty, Mr Putin said on Thursday that Russia would have no choice by to take reciprocal and asymmetric measures.

"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 centres of decision-making are located,” Mr Putin said to applause.

Speaking in front of an assembly of Russia’s political elite, Mr Putin warned the US leadership should take stock of the “range and speed of our prospective weapons” before taking steps that might threaten Russia.

After months of mounting rhetoric, the United States announced this month it was finally quitting the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces Treaty, the only Soviet-era arms control agreement still intact today. The Trump administration said the move was over Russian violations. Vladimir Putin, who denies the allegations, responded by telling foreign and defence officials that Russia was also quitting its obligations under the treaty.

Russia worries that the dissolution of the agreement, which banned building, testing and deploying land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometres, will see the United States bolster its military presence near Russia’s borders in Europe.

Alongside Mr Putin’s sabre-rattling rhetoric on Wednesday however, he also offered conciliatory words, saying he wanted more friendly relations with the United States and that he was open to future talks with Washington on arms control.

“We have no interest in confrontation and we don't want one, least of all with such a global power as the United States. But it appears our partners haven't noticed how quickly the world is changing, and where it is heading. They continue their destructive and plainly mistaken policy."

Although Wednesday’s address which was broadcast live on national television was dominated at the start by Mr Putin’s proposals for improving the economy and addressing Russia’s demographic crisis, the president also said that Russia was preparing to deploy a new hypersonic missile as part of its naval force.

Coming amid broader efforts to modernise the Russian military, Mr Putin said the Zircon missile will have a speed of nine times of the speed of sound with a range of 1,000 kilometres.

This is not the first time he’s made strong warnings of nuclear action in his annual speech.

The Russian President Putin famously kicked off last his state-of-the-nation-address last year with an animated video of new Russian nuclear missiles hitting Florida. "Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world,” Putin said. “But nobody listened to us."

"Listen now," he warned.