U.S. bridles at Putin's missile plan amid escalating mutual threats

Li Jiayao

WASHINGTON, March 1 (Xinhua) -- The United States on Thursday bridled at Russian President Vladimir Putin's missile plan, saying U.S. defense capabilities remain "unmatched" and "second to none."

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said in a press briefing that Putin's statement has "confirmed what the U.S. government has known all along -- which Russia has denied -- Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations."

Saying that U.S. President Donald Trump understands the threats facing Washington and its allies in this century, Sanders said Trump is determined to "protect our homeland and preserve peace through strength."

"U.S. defense capabilities are, and will, remain second to none," she said. Adding that thanks to the new defense budget of 700 billion U.S. dollars, the U.S. military will "be far stronger than ever."

She also said as Trump's Nuclear Posture Review made clear, Washington is moving forward to modernize its nuclear arsenal and ensure its capabilities are "unmatched."

In a separate press briefing, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said her agency was "not surprised" by Putin's remarks.

"The American people should rest assured that we are fully prepared," she said.

In response to Putin's insinuation that his decision was made because the Trump administration has become recommitted to building up its own arsenal, the White House said the U.S. arsenal was not targeted at Russia.

"They know very well that it's not about them. Our missile defense has never been about them," she said. "We need to ensure we have a credible nuclear deterrent, and we are confident that we are prepared to do -- and we are prepared to defend this nation no matter what."

In a press briefing of the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert also accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).

"That's an area of particular concern to us," she said. "Since 2014, they've not been in compliance with that. They've been developing intermediate-range ground launch cruise missiles in direct violation of the INF Treaty."

The treaty was signed more than 30 years ago to eliminate nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles of intermediate ranges.

Saying that the United States would stay in compliance with the treaty despite Russia's reported violation of it, Nauert added that Russia's release of the missiles video "shows the Russian government attacking the United States."

"That's certainly a concern of ours. I don't think that that's very constructive, nor is it responsible," she said. "It's pretty clear what their target is."

In response, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov refuted the U.S. State Department's accusations.

"Apparently, U.S. State Department is poorly proficient in the subject. Putin said about strategic armaments that are not subject to the limitations of the INF Treaty ... We would like to recall that we consider the accusations against us of the 'violation' of this treaty groundless," Antonov said in a statement.

Putin delivered his annual address to the parliament Thursday, two weeks before the presidential election where he will seek a fourth term.

In the record two-hour speech, Putin said Russia has begun testing Sarmat, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, which has "practically no range limits" as it is capable of attacking across both the South and North Poles.

Besides, according to Putin, Russia has also developed strategic weapons that do not use ballistic flight trajectories, making missile shields "useless and senseless."

In addition, Russia has deployed high-precision hypersonic missiles that are capable of penetrating "existing and prospective" defense systems, according to the president, who also vowed immediate retaliation if Russia or its allies is hit with a nuclear attack.


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