Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday sternly warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represents a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.
Commenting on Western concerns about Russia’s alleged intention to invade Ukraine, he said that Moscow is equally worried about NATO drills near its borders.
Speaking to participants of an online investment forum, the Russian President said that NATO’s eastward expansion has threatened Moscow’s core security interests. He expressed concern that NATO could eventually use the Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Russia’s command centres in just five minutes.
“The emergence of such threats represents a ‘red line’ for us,” Mr. Putin said. “I hope that common sense and responsibility for their own countries and the global community will eventually prevail.”
He added that Moscow has been forced to counter the growing threats by developing new hypersonic weapons.
“What should we do?” Mr. Putin said. “We would need to develop something similar to target those who threaten us. And we can do that even now.” He said a new hypersonic missile that is set to enter service with the Russian Navy early next year would be capable of reaching targets in comparable time. “It would also need just five minutes to reach those who issue orders,” Mr. Putin said.
The Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound to a range of 1,000 km, has undergone a series of tests, most recently Monday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. warned on Tuesday of “serious consequences” for any renewed Russian aggression as NATO met to discuss Moscow’s intentions for massing troops on the border with Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to brief his 29 NATO counterparts on the U.S. intelligence picture on the group’s eastern flank and in Ukraine, which is not a member.
At a news conference in Latvia before the meeting, Mr. Blinken expressed alarm at the “unusual” Russian troop movements.
“Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States as they would to Latvia and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” he said.
Two Russian troop build-ups this year on Ukraine’s borders have alarmed the West. In May, Russian troops there numbered 100,000, the largest since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Western officials say.
Mr. Putin argued that to avoid tensions, Russia and the West should negotiate agreements that would take the parties’ security interests into account. The Russian leader noted that Russia has been strongly worried about NATO’s drills near its borders, pointing at a recent exercise that involved U.S. strategic bombers.
“Strategic bombers, which carry precision weapons and are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, were flying as close as 20 km to our border,” he said. “That represents a threat for us.”
The previous buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine early this year was followed by Mr. Putin’s summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in June in Geneva, where they agreed to launch a dialogue on strategic stability and cyber security.
Mr. Putin hailed the discussions on cyber security between Russian and U.S. experts, saying “just as with the pandemic, it’s necessary to pool efforts to work efficiently.”
Asked about Mr. Biden’s bid to seek a second term, Mr. Putin hailed it, saying it would help the U.S. political stability.
The 69-year-old Russian president has been in power for more than two decades.