In a statement made on Thursday at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin called elements of the U.S. missile defense system placed in Alaska and South Korea a “challenge” to Moscow. According to Putin, their presence leaves the Russian military no choice but to expand its own forces in response.
The Russian president claimed that his government “cannot sit idly by” while other nations develop their defensive capabilities along their borders on the Far East just as they have throughout Europe.
“This destroys the strategic balance in the world,” Putin said in a meeting with international media.
“What is happening is a very serious and alarming process. In Alaska, and now in South Korea, elements of the anti-missile defense system are emerging. Should we just stand idly by and watch this? Of course not. We are thinking about how to respond to these challenges. This is a challenge for us.”
Putin’s statements fail to address three important elements of the defensive situation developing in the east and throughout Europe. The first is that the defensive stance adopted by European nations, bolstered through NATO and a growing American military presence on the continent, are a direct result of Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014, as well as a prolonged history of Russian aggression, particularly in Western European states that were once a part of the Soviet Bloc.
The second element of American defensive expansion in and near Asia that Putin neglected to consider in his statements, was of course, the rapid development of nuclear weapons and the means by which to deliver them by North Korea – a nation Putin has publicly suggested he would like to further develop ties with.
Putin’s North Korean stance was demonstrated by the introduction of a new ferry between North Korea and Russia which happened to launch soon after the United States called on nations to further isolate the Kim Regime for his fragrant violations of United Nations resolutions pertaining to nuclear weapons. Although Putin has publicly claimed Russia seeks a denuclearized Korean peninsula, actions do speak louder than words.
In a statement that will be sure to put Russia at odds with American ally Japan as well as the United States, Putin went on to suggest that the Kuril Islands, a chain of islands in the Far East where Moscow and Tokyo have rival territorial claims, would be “quite a convenient place” to deploy Russian military assets as a counter to American defensive installations.
“I don’t agree that we are unilaterally starting to militarize these islands,” said Putin. “It is simply a forced response to what is happening in the region.”
The third element ignored by Putin’s claims that the Russian military must expand to counter American defensive positions near their Eastern border is the very nature of the missile defense systems put into place in the region. The THAAD, for instance, drew heavy criticism from another political and economic rival of the United States, China, for increasing America’s military presence in South Korea, but the platform itself offers almost no offensive capabilities whatsoever.
The projectiles fired by the THAAD launchers do not have explosive warheads, and instead rely only on kinetic energy to destroy missiles launched by an aggressive opponent. It’s the missile-based equivalent of wearing a bullet-resistant vest. It shouldn’t invite people to shoot you, but it’s nice to have in case they do.
Putin did claim that he doesn’t want to “worsen already poor relations with Washington” by fueling what he called an arms race that has resulted from America’s “Anti-Russian campaign,” but once again, his actions may speak louder than words. By expanding Russian offensive capabilities near the American border in response to American efforts to counter potential threats, an arms race will undoubtedly occur. Not due an anti-Russian campaign, but rather as a response to their efforts to ensure they can overcome American defenses if they choose to.
Image courtesy of Reuters
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