ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russia voiced concern on Wednesday about U.S. missile defenses and high-precision conventional weapons, signaling that nuclear arms cuts proposed by President Barack Obama are likely to face formidable obstacles.
In a speech in Berlin, Obama said he wanted to reduce the strategic nuclear weapons the United States deploys by a third and would seek to negotiate cuts with Russia. The former Cold War foes possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated Moscow’s concerns about the anti-missile shields the United States and NATO are deploying, and said the development of high-precision non-nuclear weapons could upset the strategic balance.
“These weapons are approaching the level of strategic nuclear arms in terms of their strike capability. States possessing such weapons strongly increase their offensive potential,” Putin said at a meeting on defense issues in the Russian city of St Petersburg.
Putin said Russia welcomed a U.S. decision to scale down the missile defense system it is deploying with NATO in Europe, but he emphasized that “nobody is dumping this program” and that Russia - which says it fears interceptors could shoot down its nuclear missiles, weakening its defenses - remained concerned.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, a former ambassador to NATO who is known for his hawkish rhetoric and criticism of the West, spoke in starker terms.
“How can we take the idea of strategic nuclear weapons reductions seriously when the United States is building up its ability to intercept these strategic nuclear weapons?” he said.
“These things clearly do not go together. It’s obvious that Russia’s highest political leadership cannot take such proposals seriously,” Rogozin told reporters.
Russia, which signed a nuclear arms reduction agreement with the United States known as New START in 2010, has said repeatedly that further cuts in strategic nuclear arms should not be made without measures to allay its concerns about other weapons, including U.S. missile defenses.
Putin did not mention Obama’s speech, which began shortly after he spoke. His foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, when asked about reports that Obama would propose cuts, said: “It’s necessary to bring other countries that possess nuclear weapons into the process.”
“Now it is necessary to look at this issue more broadly and, naturally, to enlarge the circle of participants in possible contacts on this,” Ushakov told reporters in Moscow.
Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin in Moscow, Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Kevin Liffey