Putin: We're ramping up our ICBMs to defeat missile-defense systems

Quick — someone get another reset button! Not only has the Cold War begun again, now it appears we have returned to the old days of nuclear arms races, throw weights, and the like. Vladimir Putin announced that the Soviets — excuse me, the Russians — will expand their ICBM arsenal by adding 40 new missiles to the field that will defeat US missile-defense systems. Putin’s move comes after Russian protests of the moving of heavy NATO arms into the Baltic states, who wonder whether they’ll be the next Ukraine:

Russia announced Tuesday that it will expand its nuclear arsenal, sparking concerns about a renewed arms race as old Cold War rivals Moscow and Washington plan to increase their military capacity amid rising tensions over Ukraine.

Russia will acquire 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles “capable of overcoming any, even the most technically sophisticated, missile defense systems,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at an arms expo outside Moscow on Tuesday, just days after the Pentagon confirmed plans to place more heavy equipment in NATO countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

John Kerry believes Putin is just “posturing,” but that has its own implications:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, briefing reporters via teleconference from Boston, where he is recovering from surgery on a broken leg, called Putin’s announcement concerning.

“We’re trying to move in the opposite direction,” Kerry said. “We have had enormous cooperation from the 1990s forward with respect to the structure of nuclear weapons in the former territories of the Soviet Union. And no one wants to see us step backwards.”

He said Putin could be posturing.

“It’s really hard to tell,” Kerry said. “But nobody should hear that kind of an announcement from the leader of a powerful country and not be concerned about the implications.”

Yes, and perhaps now would be a good time to rethink the “enormous cooperation” and what it really meant. In the 1990s, the Russian Federation was broke, exhausted, and desperate. They needed American aid, and the only valuable asset they had on which to make trade work was their nuclear stockpile, some of which had been left in now-independent states like Ukraine. The Russians cooperated because it was in their interest to get those weapons out of the hands of potentially hostile neighbors. Ukraine cooperated in disarmament in exchange for security guarantees from the West that replaced the ultimate deterrent that they surrendered.

Twenty years later, with Russia’s economic status much improved, that looks like a bad bet for Ukraine and the West. Under Putin, the Russians have restarted their territorial aggression and clearly aim to bring back the Russian empire without all those messy Soviets mucking up their imperialism. As the Washington Post notes, eastern European nations are getting more and more worried about Russian military moves in the region:

Several Eastern European nations have asked the United States and NATO to deploy troops and materiel on their land to deter Russia from advancing on territories that were once part of the Soviet sphere.

Those nations became wary of Russia’s intentions after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March last year and supported pro-Russian rebels opposing Kiev’s authority in eastern Ukraine.

Despite several supposed agreements, the Russians are still in Ukraine. They also appear to be fomenting discord in ethnic Russian enclaves in the Baltic states, leaving those nations concerned about a similar pretext for what happened in Ukraine.

None of this should come as a surprise. The Bush administration misjudged Putin too in the early days, but by the time Russia invaded Georgia and picked off two of its provinces, the scales had fallen from their eyes. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton blamed the cooled relations on Bush, which was the point of the “reset” button Hillary presented to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in March 2009. Three years later, Obama and Hillary scoffed when Mitt Romney described Russia as the primary “geopolitical foe” of the US, and ran ads about how the 1980s had called and wanted its foreign policy back. Instead, the Carter years called and loaned its geopolitical cluelessness to the Obama/Hillary foreign-policy team, and not just on Russia policy either, but also Iran.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis says that the move of equipment into the Baltics isn’t all that provocative anyway. It’s “unlikely” that Russia would invade the Baltics — “but if you talk to the Baltics, they feel it[.]” Stavridis thinks that the only “insane” factor is Putin himself, but not if one considers that Russian imperialism has been his plan all along. The weakness of the West does nothing but encourage him even further.