(CNSNews.com) – In a NBC News interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin ridiculed a suggestion that the U.S. development of ballistic missile defenses should be seen in the context of a post-9/11 strategic posture reevaluation, telling interviewer Megyn Kelly that that was “an explanation for the housewives watching your program.”
Discussing at length one of the biggest irritants in bilateral relations since the turn of the century, Putin dismissed Washington’s consistently-stated assertion that the BMD architecture being rolled out in Europe was designed to protect against missile attack from rogue states like Iran, not against the Russian nuclear arsenal.
Going further, he told Kelly that U.S. officials have privately acknowledged that to be false.
“We have always said that developing the missile defense system creates a threat to us,” he said. “Our American partners would not publicly admit it, claiming that the system was spearheaded mainly against Iran. But eventually, in conversations and during talks they admitted that, of course, the system will destroy our nuclear deterrence potential.”
Kelly noted that the U.S. withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty – the step that paved the way for the proposals to develop a BMD shield in Europe – just months after al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.
“It was in the wake of 9/11, just to make it clear,” she interjected, adding that “the United States was reassessing its security posture in the world for good reason, wouldn’t you admit?”
“No, not for good reason,” Putin replied.
“This is complete nonsense, because the missile defense system protects from the kind of ballistic missiles that no terrorists have in their arsenal,” he said. “This is an explanation for the housewives watching your program.”
“But if these housewives can hear what I am saying, if you show it to them and they hear me, they will understand that 9/11 and the missile defense system are completely unrelated.”
Putin said if the major powers want to protect themselves from terrorist attack, they should cooperate against the terrorists, not create threats for each other.
In the sometimes confrontational interview, recorded in Moscow and Kaliningrad early this month, Kelly asked Putin about sophisticated new weapons which he unveiled in a state of the union speech, claiming they were capable of rendering U.S. BMD shields useless.
Some were already deployed and some required additional work, he conceded, but said all were designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses.
As he did in the earlier speech, Putin in the interview attributed Russia’s decision to develop the weaponry directly to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
“The United States, when it withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, forced us to begin developing new weapon systems,” he said. “We told our [American] partners about it, and they said, ‘Do whatever you like.’ Fine, that is what we did – so enjoy.”
Putin said Russia’s response had been to develop weapons capable of breaking U.S. missile shields – “to preserve the strategic balance so that you would not be able to zero out our nuclear deterrence forces.”
Underlining his argument that the BMD systems are a threat to Russia, Putin noted their proximity to Russia, and asked how the U.S. would feel if Russia reciprocated.
One ground-based system was operational in Alaska, he pointed out. Another was in place in Romania, and yet another had almost been completed in Poland. Sea-based BMD systems meanwhile were also “based very close to Russian shores both in the south and the north,” Putin added.
“Imagine if we placed our missile systems along the U.S.-Mexico or the U.S.-Canada border, in their territories on both sides and brought our ships in from both sides,” he said. “What would you say? Would you take action?”
‘Deliver death and destruction to our doorstep’
When President George W. Bush in December 2001 first announced his intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty he did, indeed, reference the terrorism threat that had been so starkly illustrated three months earlier, citing an article giving each party the right to withdraw “if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.”
“We know that the terrorists, and some of those who support them, seek the ability to deliver death and destruction to our doorstep via missile,” he said in the announcement, adding that as commander-in-chief he could not allow the U.S. to have its hands tied by a treaty that prevents it from developing effective defenses.
Over the years that followed and under three successive presidents, missile defense facilities designed largely with North Korea and Iran in mind – according to the Pentagon – were developed in the continental United States (ground-based midcourse defense systems at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. and Fort Greely, Alaska), Romania and Poland (Aegis Ashore interceptors), Turkey (a BMD radar) and on Aegis-equipped U.S. Navy destroyers.
Fort Greely is located about 700 miles from the nearest Russian territory; the facility in southern Romania is a roughly similar distance to the nearest Russian soil; and the one being built in Poland is less than 200 miles from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Aegis ships have been deployed in the Mediterranean, Black and Baltic seas (as well as in Pacific waters).