Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that the world is underestimating the threat of nuclear war and blamed the U.S. for risking a collapse in global arms controls.
The U.S. is threatening to suspend a Cold War treaty limiting medium-range missiles because it says one of Russia’s weapons violates the agreement.
During his annual marathon news conference Thursday, Putin insisted that Washington was to blame.
“Now they are leaving the treaty on eliminating the short and middle-range missiles,” Putin said referring to the Trump administration. “What’s next? It’s hard to imagine how the situation will evolve. What if those missiles appear in Europe? What do we do then?”
Most experts agree Russia has been violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
However, many of those same analysts have criticized President Donald Trump for walking away from the INF Treaty. They argue that quitting it won’t bring Russia into line, and instead could trigger an arms race with ground-based nuclear missiles returning to Europe for the first time in decades.
On Thursday, Putin also said there “have not been any negotiations” with the U.S. to extend New START, a separate treaty that caps arsenals of intercontinental ballistic missiles and other weapons. It expires in 2021. “Not interested? Don’t need it? Fine,” he said.
And he warned that nuclear war could “lead to extermination of the whole civilization.”
Putin added: “We know how to secure our safety. But, in general, it’s very bad for humanity as it takes us closer to a very dangerous line. It is a very serious question and it is a shame it is being underestimated … We are now witnessing the collapse of the international system of nuclear containment.”
The Russian president also claimed double standards when it came to Sergei Skripal, the former spy allegedly poisoned by Russia on British soil, and Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
“Khashoggi was killed. It is obvious and recognized by everyone. Skripal, thank God, is alive,” Putin said.
“However, there is a flurry of sanctions against Russia and non-stop talk about it still. In the other case, however, there is total silence. Complete silence,” he added. “This is the politicized, Russophobic approach. It is a reason, only just a reason for another attack on Russia.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia in response to its “continued disregard for international norms,” which includes Moscow’s interference in 2016 U.S. election.