Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to deploy new missiles against Western capitals as he delivered a state of the nation address today aimed at boosting falling approval ratings.
But while he took a combative tone with the West, he reached out to Russians with promises of improved living conditions.
The longtime Russian leader warned Washington against deploying any new missiles in Europe following the collapse of a key Cold War-era treaty, saying Moscow would consider it a “serious threat”.
“I’m saying this clearly and openly, Russia will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used… against the decision-making centres that are behind the missile systems which threaten us,” Putin said.
The United States and Russia raised fears of a new arms race when they announced earlier this year they were pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, a 1987 deal that limited medium-range missiles.
Washington was the first to announce its withdrawal, accusing Moscow of developing new weapons that violated the treaty, but Putin on Wednesday dismissed the US claims as “far-fetched”.
The tough talk on missiles seemed aimed at stirring up patriotic support for Putin, who won re-election last year with more than 76 per cent of the vote but has been recently struggling with dropping poll numbers.
A survey by Russia’s independent Levada Center released in January found his approval rating at 64 per cent — a figure many Western leaders could only dream of, but Putin’s lowest in five years.
Putin, 66, appeared calm and confident as usual during the speech, but the Kremlin is reportedly deeply concerned by the fall in his personal approval ratings in recent months.