Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the development of a new European security system Thursday in response to what he says is a U.S. effort to undermine strategic parity and warned that a third world war could end civilization.
“The understanding that a third world war could be the end of civilization should restrain us from taking extreme steps on the international arena that are highly dangerous for modern civilization,” Putin said during his annual televised call-in show.
Putin denounced the 2001 U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the then-Soviet Union as “an attempt to put an end to strategic parity, but we will respond to this.”
He also said Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missile will soon be put into service, telling viewers, “We plan to deliver our most powerful strategic missile system to the armed forces in 2020. This is the new super-powerful ballistic missile Sarmat.”
Putin praised his military forces, maintaining they helped combat terrorism in Syria and said their actions helped stabilize the situation there.
“It was an important, noble mission aimed at protecting the interests of Russia and our citizens,” he said.
The Russian president said he was not planning to withdraw his military forces from Syria and would remain there as long as their presence serves Russia’s interests. He added, however, that he could pull them out of the country quickly if necessary.
Russia began its military operation in Syria in 2015, tipping the civil war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad. Putin announced last December he would reduce Russia’s military presence there.
Putin also addressed tariffs the U.S. imposed on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico, and other long-term allies in the European Union, likening them to unjustified economic sanctions.
“It appears our partners thought that this would never affect them, this counterproductive politics of restrictions and sanctions,” he said. “But now we are seeing that this is happening.
Putin boasted that he warned of the growing risk of the U.S. imposing its rules on other countries in a 2007 speech in Munich, saying, “Nobody wanted to listen and nobody did anything to stop this from developing. Well there you go. You’ve been hit. Dinner is served. Please sit down and eat.”
He also warned neighboring Ukraine not to take any military action against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while Russia hosts the FIFA World Cup soccer competition.
“I hope there won’t be any provocations, but if it happens, I think it would have very serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood in general,” he said.
Russia is still grappling with economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., the EU and several other countries after its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and for a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine that same year. Putin said “unilateral sanctions do not resolve problems” and insisted they were imposed because “Russia is seen as a threat, because Russia is seen as becoming a competitor.”
2016 US elections
Putin continued to deny any Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections with the intent of helping U.S. President Donald Trump win the vote. When asked about the best joke he heard recently, Putin cited a recent German news report about Trump “pushing Europe into Putin’s hands” and other reports of Russia’s interference.
“If we take this together with an earlier joke, that Russia influenced elections in the United States, then this all taken together, starts sounding pretty funny,” he said. “We apparently influenced the election of the U.S. president, and then he gifted us Europe. Total nonsense. There’s no way to describe this other than as a joke.”
Russian state TV reported the public submitted about 2 million questions during the annual phone-in, which Putin has used since 2001 to position himself as a domestic problem solver and a strong defender of Russia’s interests on the global stage.
Critics complain it is a choreographed event designed to let Russian citizens feel empowered to influence government decisions.