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Putin Not 'Worried' About Heavy Weapons In Eastern Europe

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) attends a news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto outside of Moscow on June 16.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) attends a news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto outside of Moscow on June 16.

Despite much bluster and a revival of Cold War rhetoric, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 16 that he is not especially worried about a U.S. plan to possibly station heavy weaponry in Eastern Europe.

Observers should not "blow anything out of proportion" with regard to the alleged threat from NATO, he told a news conference after meeting with the Finnish president.

"Of course, we will analyze everything and follow this carefully, but so far, I don't see anything that would force us to worry especially," Putin said.

The Russian leader, who provoked concern in the West earlier in the day with his own announcement that Russia's nuclear arsenal would get 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, insisted that Russia is only interested in defending itself.

"It's NATO that is coming to our borders, and not us moving somewhere," he said.

"If someone puts some of our territories under threat, that means we will have to direct our armed forces and modern strike power at those territories, from where the threat emanates," he said.

Putin said that Russia was most concerned about a missile-defense system the United States is creating in Europe -- something Russia has adamantly opposed. In his earlier remark about the Russian ICBMs, he said they would be able to overcome even the most modern missile-defense system.

Putin's comment about the ICBMs provoked a sharp reaction and alarm in the West.

"Nobody wants to -- I think -- go back to a kind of Cold War status," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

"We're trying to move in the opposite direction," he said. "We have had enormous cooperation from the 1990s forward with respect to the structure of nuclear weapons in the former territories of the Soviet Union. And no one wants to see us step backwards."

Kerry said it's possible Putin could be posturing about the nuclear weapons.

"It's really hard to tell," he said. "But nobody should hear that kind of an announcement from the leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about the implications."

Meanwhile, the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, told TASS that no decision had been made about moving heavy equipment out of Germany into Poland or other newer NATO members.

But he said that no new equipment would be involved -- it would only be a reshuffling of existing equipment and forces.

Hodges said the proposed shift would not violate the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, in which the alliance said it would refrain from "additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces" in the "curent and foreseeable security environment."

"One brigade per country was considered acceptable" at the time, he said. "And we are talking one brigade total that could potentially be spread out over eight countries. So to say that this is an erosion [of the NATO-Russia agreement] is, frankly, a ridiculous assertion."

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and TASS
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