Diana Magnay – Sky News Feb 20, 2019
Vladimir Putin has warned Moscow will match any US move to deploy nuclear missiles closer to Russia by placing its own missiles closer to the US or by deploying new, faster missiles.
The Russian president issued a clear message to American politicians in his annual state of the nation address.
“Let them calculate the range and speed of our weapons systems,” he said.
“Only then should they make decisions that pose a serious threat to our country.”
It is one step further than he has gone before.
If the US was to place intermediate-range missiles in Europe pointing in Russia’s direction, Russia has made clear it would respond.
Today Mr Putin added that it would not just be the host countries for those missile defence systems which Russia would draw into range but those countries where the decision-makers are based.
Russia has long professed regret over the steady dismantling of the Cold War-era security architecture, first the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and now from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
To the US and NATO, that regret is entirely disingenuous as is the position President Putin repeated today that Russia’s military build-up is purely defensive.
As each side trades accusations over who breached the treaty, this speech was a reminder, just in case anyone needed it, that Russia will be ready for a more dangerous, post-INF world.
But this was a shorter and altogether less belligerent address than last year’s.
The bulk was devoted to domestic issues, an attempt to win over a public increasingly on edge after last year’s massively unpopular pension reforms and a general squeeze on living standards.
Mr Putin must have reckoned he would do better with promises to fill fridges than flood TV screens with images of hypersonic missiles.
He also touched on one theme he has touched on before – economic crimes and the propensity for businessmen in Russia to sit behind bars on potentially trumped up charges.
Honest businesses should not have to fear criminal prosecution, he said.
One of Russia’s most prominent foreign investors, Michael Calvey of private equity fund Baring Vostok, is doing just that.
He and five others were arrested last week on embezzlement charges. Their request for bail and house arrest was promptly rejected.
The case has shocked the investment community. Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin called it an “emergency” for the Russian economy.
The Kremlin has tried to distance the president from the affair, saying the matter must follow due process in the courts.
This is as close as Russia’s president has come to commenting. It followed a long directive to the government to promote entrepreneurialism, invest in start-ups and shape a new digital economy.
That is exactly what private equity fund Baring Vostok has done for the past 25 years.
The way Calvey’s case goes from here may indicate whether Mr Putin wants to reduce business risk for foreigners too or whether he has calculated the cost and decided he just does not need them anymore.