President Vladimir Putin warned on Friday that Romania and Poland have put themselves in the “crosshairs” of Russian rockets by hosting the U.S. defensive missile system that Russia considers a threat to its security.
The Russian leader gave the stark warning over the missile shield during a joint news conference in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He said that he will respond to the missile system the United States and its partners in Eastern Europe are building, claiming Moscow had stated that it would have to take retaliatory steps on repeated occasions, but that Washington and Europe had ignored them. Putin said that “strong counter-measures” would be taken to counter the NATO deployment.
“If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the cross-hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,” Putin warned, according to Reuters. “It will be the same case with Poland,” he added.
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) May 28, 2016
Putin was not specific in saying precisely what measures Russia would take to counter the West, but he repeated the typical Russian narrative, claiming that his government was reacting to Western provocation and not taking aggressive action. According to Voice of America, he also ruled out any discussion of the Russian annexation of the former Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
“As far as Crimea is concerned, we consider this question is closed forever,” Putin said. “Russia will not conduct any discussions with anyone on this subject.”
Putin continues to say that his government acted on the will of the people of Crimea, who voted in a highly controversial referendum to join Russia. The West, as well as most of the international community, saw the annexation as an aggressive action and a violation of international law, pointing to the Russian troop presence on the peninsula.
Ironically, the U.S. military says that the missile shield is to protect against Iran, and not to threaten Russia. The United States and NATO have repeatedly said the system is defensive. The Romanian part of the shield, named Romania Deveselu missile facility, already became operational earlier this month, and work on the other part of the system in Poland has continued unabated. There was no immediate diplomatic reaction by the U.S. to Putin’s comments. The Russian president insisted that his country was not taking the first step, but issued a vague warning that he would respond to any moves by the U.S. or its allies, according to VOA.
“I repeat that these are countermeasures, countermeasures. We will not take any first steps. It will be the same case with Poland. We will wait until Poland takes certain action. We will not take any action… until we see rockets in areas that border us.”
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) May 28, 2016
Putin also said the explanation that the missile shield was to protect against possible hostile actions by Iran made no sense, given the recent international agreement to roll back Tehran’s nuclear arms program, and said that the missiles could easily reach Russian cities. The president also addressed Russia’s icy relations with Turkey, as Reuters reported.
“The Russian leader also touched on relations with Turkey, which have been toxic since the Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last November. Ankara said the plane strayed into Turkish airspace, an allegation Moscow denies. Putin said he was ready to consider restoring relations with Ankara, but that would require a first step from Turkey, and so far there was no sign of that.”
Putin’s visit to Greece was to celebrate 1,000 year presence of Russian Orthodox monks in the country. He met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday, and remained in Greece on Saturday to tour Mount Athos, considered one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity.
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