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Video: US, Russia already in new arms race, Putin says

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
December 18, 2020

During his annual, year-end press conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is “already in” a new arms race with the U.S.

Asked if Russia would be in an arms race with the U.S. if both countries are unable to reach agreements on extending arms control treaties, Putin said the arms race had already begun due to the U.S. withdrawal from an army treaty.

“You said, if it’s not extended, is there going to be an arms race? Well, there already is an arms race,” Putin said. “Once the U.S. withdrew from the Missile Defense Treaty, that’s what happened.”

Putin’s remarks came towards the tail end of his press conference, which lasted nearly five hours.

It was not immediately clear which nuclear treaty Putin referred to as the starting point for this new arms race. Earlier in his remarks, he did allude to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, stating “was it us who withdrew from the INF treaty? No, it wasn’t us. It was the U.S.”

In February 2019, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, citing Russian noncompliance with the treaty rules. The treaty had stood since 1988, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ratified the agreement. The treaty officially lapsed in August of 2019. Putin’s remarks Thursday indicated he has considered Russia to be in an arms race with the U.S. for nearly a year and a half since.

According to the Washington Examiner, Putin may have actually been referring to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, as the starting point from which the new arms race began. The ABM treaty lasted from 1972 to 2002, when then-President George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from the agreement. The 2002 end of the ABM treaty would set a much longer, 18-year timeline from which Putin believes Russia’s new arms race began.

In his Thursday remarks, Putin did suggest Russia could see new arms control efforts with the U.S. under a Biden presidency.

“From what I understand, Mr. Biden himself, President-Elect Biden has said that he is willing to extend [the New Start Treaty]. We are ready for that,” Putin said. “But we need first to get an official reaction from the U.S.”

Still addressing the his view of the new arms race, Putin said, “What we were forced to do, is to prevent nuclear capacity from being nullified, and we had to create a missile defense system, and we had to introduce new weapons systems.”

Among the new weapons Putin went on to describe was the Circon (or Tsirkon) hypersonic missile. In October, Russia released footage of the hypersonic missile, launching from the deck of one of its warships.

“We’ve had tests of Circon not long ago, and the most of the testing, most of the work is complete,” Putin said. “Its speed is over mach eight, and the missile can be mounted on stationary launch systems, on ships, on submarines. It can also be brought to neutral waters. Does this in any way change the situation? Yes, it does. Of course, it does.”