Reporting from Moscow — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his confident bluntness on full display, has declared Russia might build up its nuclear weapons instead of reducing them if the New START treaty arranged with the Obama administration is not ratified by Congress.
If the treaty is held up by U.S. legislators showing "a very dumb nature" then Russia will "have to react somehow," Putin said in an interview with CNN's Larry King scheduled for broadcast Wednesday.
Putin said the treaty, which calls for reducing the maximum nuclear warheads in each country from 2,200 to 1,550, is in the best interest of the United States.
He emphasized the importance of both the treaty and Russia's bid to become an equal partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's plan to build a European missile defense system.
"If our proposals are met with only negative response and additional ABM [anti-ballistic missile] threats emerge along our borders Russia will be simply obligated to ensure its security with different means, including the deployment of new [strategic] complexes, new nuclear missiles," Putin said. "That's not our choice. We don't want that to happen. But this is not a threat on our part. We simply want to say that this is all we expect if we don't come to an agreement."
President Obama has described the completion of the treaty, which he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April, as imperative to national security. Obama and former Secretary of State Colin Powell held a news conference Wednesday encouraging the Senate to ratify the accord.
Senate Republicans led by Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona have been reluctant to vote on the treaty as Congress approaches the end of the year, saying there are many unresolved issues. The Republicans have raised concerns about the modernization and safeguarding of the country's nuclear arsenal and said the treaty would limit U.S. missile defense options.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama administration officials this week responded to several concerns, raising the possibility that the treaty might be approved by year's end, the Associated Press reported.
Putin, who preceded Medvedev as president, said in the CNN interview that without the treaty Russia would have to arm itself against "new threats" posed by U.S. plans for the missile defense system in Europe.
"We have been told that you'll do it in order to secure you against the, let's say, Iranian nuclear threat," Putin said. "But such a threat, as of now, doesn't exist."
Several observers in Russia said Putin's comments, which came after Medvedev on Tuesday made similar statements about Russian defense during his annual address to parliament, were aimed at helping Obama win ratification for the treaty.
"It is important here not to overplay it and not to make it look like a bluff which can be called," Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation, a Moscow-based think tank said in an interview. "Putin is sending a signal to the U.S. conservative establishment that if the START treaty is not ratified and if Russia is left outside the construction of a European ABM system, the Kremlin will have to start building its own anti-ballistic defenses and also new offensive weapons capable of penetrating the NATO ABM elements."
Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the international affairs committee of the Russian parliament's lower house, said in an interview that Putin's message was clear.
"We want to work with you," Klimov said, "but if you leave the door closed and don't let us into your ABM plans you are pushing us into going our own way."
Lilia Shevtsova, a senior researcher with Moscow Carnegie Center said in an interview, "Putin makes it clear that Russia so far hasn't got anything out of the reset and that now the ball is in the U.S. court. His message, however arrogant it may sound, is that we gave you everything and got nothing in return."