Russia is not building up its offensive military capabilities overseas and is only responding to security threats caused by US and NATO military expansion on its borders, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian outlet Il Corriere della Sera.
Speaking to the paper on the eve of his visit to Italy, Putin stressed that one should not take the ongoing “Russian aggression” scaremongering in the West seriously, as a global military conflict is unimaginable in the modern world.
“I think that only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia. They just want to play the role of front-line countries that should receive some supplementary military, economic, financial or some other aid,” Putin said.
Certain countries could be deliberately nurturing such fears, he added, saying that hypothetically the US could need an external threat to maintain its leadership in the Atlantic community. “Iran is clearly not very scary or big enough” for this, Putin noted with irony.
Russia’s President invited the journalists to compare the global military presence of Russia and the US/NATO, as well as their military spending levels. He also urged them to look at the steps each side has taken in connection with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s military policy is “not global, offensive, or aggressive,” Putin stressed, adding that Russia has “virtually no bases abroad,” and the few that do exist are remnants of its Soviet past.
He explained that there were small contingents of Russian armed forces in Tajikistan on the border with Afghanistan, mainly due to the high terrorist threat in the area. There is an airbase in Kyrgyzstan, which was opened at request of the Kyrgyz authorities to deal with a terrorist threat there. Russia also has a military unit in Armenia, which was set up to help maintain stability in the region, not to counter any outside threat.
In fact, Russia has been working towards downsizing its global military presence, while the US has been doing the exact opposite. “We have dismantled our bases in various regions of the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, and so on,” the president stressed. “I invite you to publish a world map in your newspaper and to mark all the US military bases on it. You will see the difference.”
Meanwhile, it would take only 17 minutes for missiles launched from US submarines on permanent alert off Norway’s coast to reach Moscow, Putin said, noting that this fact is somehow not labeled as “aggression” in the media. The US has carried out the oft-cited strategic bomber flights along Russia’s borders since Soviet times without interruption, while Russia stopped them in the early 1990s and has only resumed them just recently.
The combined military spending of NATO countries is ten times higher than that of the Russian Federation, Putin stressed.
America has been setting up “anti-missile systems, bases and radars located in the European territory or in the sea,” despite Russia’s repeated warnings that this undermines international security.
Revealingly, it is the United States that chose to withdraw from the ABM treaty limiting anti-ballistic missile arsenals, which Putin believes was “the cornerstone of the entire international security system.” The Russian leader questioned the move: “Did someone expect Russia to disarm unilaterally?”
He explained that Moscow had tried to dissuade the US from withdrawing from the treaty, and instead “create an ABM system together, the three of us: Russia, the United States and Europe.” This proposal was declined, and Russia had to, likewise, begin developing “overpowering anti-ballistic defense” systems to ensure strategic balance. According to Putin, Russia has made “significant strides in this area.”
“Everything we do is just a response to the threats emerging against us. Besides, what we do is limited in scope and scale, but is, however, sufficient to ensure Russia’s security,” Putin underlined.
Nevertheless, Putin said he views America not as Russia’s rival, but rather as a partner and ally on many pressing world issues, such as global terrorism, Middle Eastern crises and Iran’s nuclear program.
“We are not just partners; I would say we are allies in addressing the issues related to non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are undoubtedly allies in the fight against terrorism. There are some other areas of collaboration as well. The central theme of Expo Milano…is yet another example of our joint work,” Putin said.
Expo Milano 2015 is an international gathering in Milan, Italy, which this year has been promoted under the slogan “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” and which Putin will also be visiting. Russia is taking part in the event, presenting its own technologies and innovations.