Of late Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a blunt warning to the West concerning its nuclear arsenal during Russia’s annual State of the Nation event. Putin’s speech and video presentation outlined Russia’s latest capabilities, which can “reach anywhere in the world”.
The message behind such a presentation was clear. Russia will not be intimidated by western manoeuvres. Put succinctly by Putin, this “is not a bluff”.
For some analysts, this will be perceived as yet another sign of Russian aggression. In recent years, Russia has reclaimed the Crimea and allegedly engaged in hybrid warfare in Ukraine by supporting “local pro-Russian separatists” and conducting cyber operations. Additionally, Russia has been charged with interfering in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections. Moreover, according to British SIS intelligence, “all three Russian intelligence services are tasked with carrying out information operations”.
Much to the displeasure of Washington, Moscow provided Syrian President Bashar Assad with a crucial lifeline during the Syrian Civil War, which essentially helped to outmanoeuvre the U.S. in Syria. Putin’s latest projection of power at the State of the Nation event appears to be a running trend of an assertive Russia that is bent on intimidating global powers.
Whilst this latest sign of Russian power is a setback for nuclear disarmament, Moscow sees this upgrade as a necessary security measure to counter western capabilities, and rightfully so.
To begin with, Russia is not the only nation that has chosen to renew its nuclear deterrent. Russia’s greatest security rival, the U.S, has also chosen to renew its own nuclear arsenal which, as it stands, is very prominent in size, range and potency. During the Obama administration, President Barack Obama sought to rejuvenate America’s strike capability by signing a $1trn nuclear upgrade plan. This was scheduled to take place over a “30” year period. President Trump has continued this posture by asserting in his State of the Union address that, “we must modernise and rebuild our nuclear arsenal”. Unbeknownst to some, Russia is not the only nuclear state planning to advance its offensive capabilities.
Furthermore, back in 2016, British MPs voted and approved the renewal of its Trident nuclear submarines, amidst opposition from SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Although London did not brag of being able to evade U.S. missile interceptors, this was not treated as a monumental existential threat to Russian security worthy of relentlessly portraying the U.K. as a resurgent power searching for trouble.
In addition, Moscow will undoubtedly point to America’s refusal to remove its Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) interceptor from South Korea as a legitimate reason to upgrade its nuclear capabilities. Amid heightened tensions between South Korea, Japan and North Korea, Washington agreed to supply Seoul with a highly advanced missile interceptor to help counter the threat posed by Pyongyang. However, before the deployment of THAAD, China’s President Xi Jinping vehemently protested its presence, stating that the system “gravely harms the strategic security interests of China, Russia and other countries in the region”.
Moscow too was concerned that THAAD could help tip the balance of power in the region, much to the detriment of Russia’s ability to project power so close to its borders. Washington pressed on with the deployment, causing great concern in the region. Ultimately, Washington has had a relatively free hand at bolstering its own security measures across the globe, to the detriment of other global powers. Russia’s foreign policy needs to be observed in relation to what is happening elsewhere in the world. Indeed, Putin has taken measures that can and should be viewed as aggressive, but they are in response to what Moscow sees as an expansionist western alliance that seeks to intimidate Russia. Having previously assumed that NATO and the U.S. would not move closer to Russia’s border, which did not materialise, Putin will continue to take bold measures to counter western dominance.
Many critics will view this as a soft assessment of Russia’s aggressive manoeuvres in the past few years. Nonetheless; Russian security matters.
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