Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe a "great danger" and vowed that Moscow will respond by enhancing its own missile strike capability.
While NATO insists the shield is a defensive system aimed in part at thwarting possible Iranian missile strikes, Putin said it can be easily turned into an offensive system that could be used against Russia.
"Those tubes, those silos where missiles are put are used for Tomahawks. These Tomahawks can be put there in just a few hours, and then these will be not missile interceptors," Putin told international news leaders in St. Petersburg on June 17.
"You have only to change the software, and that's it. This work is absolutely invisible. The Romanians won't know what's happening there," he said. "Nobody will know, either Romanians or Poles. I know how it's done."
"In my view, this is really dangerous," he said, adding that "we know approximately which year the Americans will get a new missile that will have a range of not 500 kilometers but 1,000 kilometers, and from that moment they will start threatening our nuclear potential."
Putin added that "we will have to respond" to the threats, although "I know in advance that we will again be accused of aggressive behavior" when Russia responds.
"We will perfect our missile strike capability," to ensure that "strategic balance" is maintained in Europe, he said. "We will have to ensure not only our own security. It is vital for us to ensure strategic balance in the world."
Putin added that he worries that the growing military confrontation between Russia and the United States "is dragging the world into a new dimension."
"People feel no danger, and that is alarming for me. Can we see that we are dragging the world into an utterly new dimension?"
Putin said he didn't know how to "bring this home" to leaders from other countries.
With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and TASS