USS Jimmy Carter, a US Seawolf submarine. Photo: General Dynamics Electric Boat
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of the threat posed by US submarines "on permanent alert" off Norway. ”They are equipped with missiles that can reach Moscow in 17 minutes," he told Italy's Il Corriere della Sera newspaper. "And you would call us aggressive?“
SPutin's comments came after Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Friday said that Norwegian involvement in Nato's Missile Defence System was “necessary”, committing her country to taking a role in the network, a move certain to irritate Russia, which sees the system's role out as an act of aggression.
In his interview, Putin denied that Russia was becoming more aggressive, instead suggesting that a growing Nato presence in Norway and other countries on Russia's borders was forcing his country to respond.
“We are not expanding anywhere,” he said, “It is Nato infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that is moving towards our borders. Is this a manifestation of our aggression?”
He singled out Nato's missile defence system for criticism.
“The United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was to a large extent the cornerstone of the entire international security system,” he noted, pointing to George W Bush's unilateral decision to withdraw in December 2001 in order to build a predecessor of the Nato system.
“Anti-missile systems, bases and radars are located in the European territory or in the sea, e.g. in the Mediterranean Sea, and in Alaska,” he went on. “We have said many times that this undermines international security. Do you think this is a display of our aggression as well?”
The Russian president also complained that the much-reported increase in the number of flights by Russian military aircraft in the Baltic Sea, and near the US borders off Alaska, was intended only to match Nato's existing flight programme.
“Sometimes I am asked about our airplanes flying somewhere far over the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “Patrolling by strategic airplanes in remote regions was carried out only by the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. In the early 1990s, we, the new, modern Russia, stopped these flights, but our American friends continued to fly along our borders. Why? Some years ago, we resumed these flights. And you want to say that we have been aggressive?
He pointed out that while Nato was still active in Norwegian waters close to Russian territory, Russia had long-since closed down its own missile bases in Cuba.
“We dismantled all of our bases in Cuba a long time ago, even the non-strategic ones,” he said.
Finally, he made a powerful argument that Russia's growing military spending still left it far behind Nato.
“US military spending is higher than that of all countries in the world taken together,” he said. “The aggregate military spending of NATO countries is ten times, note – ten times higher than that of the Russian Federation.”
“Russia has virtually no bases abroad,” he added, pointing to the base in Armenia and another in Kyrgyzstan. “I invite you to publish the world map in your newspaper and to mark all the US military bases on it. You will see the difference.”
“Everything we do is just a response to the threats emerging against us,” he continued. “Besides, what we do is limited in scope and scale, which are, however, sufficient to ensure Russia's security. Or did someone expect Russia to disarm unilaterally?”