Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his yearly State of the Nation speech on February 20th, 2019. Last year’s speech, given March 1, was a real topic of amazement for both Russia and the West, as the president revealed the new hypersonic weaponry that the Russian Federation has been developing, as well as other extremely sophisticated means of defense for the nation. At first the West mocked these claims, but time proved Mr. Putin correct.
This year’s speech appears to be quite different in its focus, though of course the President had to discuss the matters of the defense of his nation and its response to pressure from the Western powers, most notably the United States and Great Britain. While the main focus of his speech, and indeed, this last presidential term, is on domestic issues within Russia, he had to still discuss military matters, which is what the Western media reacted to. Here is that section of the speech. We have reprinted it in full, but the emphases and comments that break the segment of the speech are ours:
Colleagues, Russia has been and always will be a sovereign and independent state. This is a given. It will either be that, or will simply cease to exist. We must clearly understand this. Without sovereignty, Russia cannot be a state. Some countries can do this, but not Russia.
Sound familiar, America?
Building relations with Russia means working together to find solutions to the most complex matters instead of trying to impose solutions. We make no secret of our foreign policy priorities. These include strengthening trust, countering global threats, promoting cooperation in the economy and trade, education, culture, science and technology, as well as facilitating people-to-people contact. These tenets underpin our work within the UN, the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as within the Group of 20, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
We believe in the importance of promoting closer cooperation within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, including close foreign policy and economic coordination. Together with our integration partners within the Eurasian Economic Union, we will continue creating common markets and outreach efforts. This includes implementing the decisions to coordinate the activities of the EAEU with China’s Belt and Road initiative on the way to a greater Eurasian partnership.
Russia’s equal and mutually beneficial relations with China currently serve as an important factor of stability in international affairs and in terms of Eurasian security, offering a model of productive economic cooperation. Russia attaches importance to realising the potential of the special privileged strategic partnership with India. We will continue to promote political dialogue and economic cooperation with Japan. Russia stands ready to work with Japan on finding mutually acceptable terms for signing a peace treaty. We intend to promote deeper ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
(Russia and Japan never concluded a treaty to end World War II, and negotiations continue to this day, even as commerce has redeveloped between the two countries.)
We also hope that the European Union and the major European countries will finally take actual steps to put political and economic relations with Russia back on track. People in these countries are looking forward to cooperation with Russia, which includes corporations, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, and European businesses in general. It goes without saying that this would serve our common interests.
This is significant and underreported in the United States news media, if not ignored outright. Americans usually get a strange “half” of the news, talking about the US trying to sell LNG to European allies at a high price when Russia, a huge producer of natural gas, is right next door (we will discuss this more in a companion piece).
And now we come to the heart of the matter, at least insofar as this issue makes the news in both countries.
The unilateral withdrawal of the USA from the INF Treaty is the most urgent and most discussed issue in Russian-American relations. This is why I am compelled to talk about it in more detail. Indeed, serious changes have taken place in the world since the Treaty was signed in 1987. Many countries have developed and continue to develop these weapons, but not Russia or the USA – we have limited ourselves in this respect, of our own free will. Understandably, this state of affairs raises questions. Our American partners should have just said so honestly rather than make far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the Treaty.
It would have been better if they had done what they did in 2002 when they walked away from the ABM Treaty and did so openly and honestly. Whether that was good or bad is another matter. I think it was bad, but they did it and that is that. They should have done the same thing this time, too. What are they doing in reality? First, they violate everything, then they look for excuses and appoint a guilty party. But they are also mobilising their satellites that are cautious but still make noises in support of the USA. At first, the Americans began developing and using medium-range missiles, calling them discretionary “target missiles” for missile defence. Then they began deploying Mk-41 universal launch systems that can make offensive combat use of Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles possible.
I am talking about this and using my time and yours because we have to respond to the accusations that are leveled at us. But having done everything I have just described, the Americans openly and blatantly ignored the provisions envisaged by articles 4 and 6 of the INF Treaty. According to Item 1, Article VI (I am quoting): “Each Party shall eliminate all intermediate-range missiles and the launchers of such missiles… so that… no such missiles, launchers… shall be possessed by either party.” Paragraph 1 of Article VI provides that (and I quote) “upon entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter, neither Party may produce or flight-test any intermediate-range missile, or produce any stages or launchers of such missiles.” End of quote.
Using medium-range target missiles and deploying launchers in Romania and Poland that are fit for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, the US has openly violated these clauses of the Treaty. They did this some time ago. These launchers are already stationed in Romania and nothing happens. It seems that nothing is happening. This is even strange. This is not at all strange for us, but people should be able to see and understand it.
And then comes the part that the Western media seized upon in their continuing campaign to malign and demonize both the Russian Federation and its president:
How are we evaluating the situation in this context? I have already said this and I want to repeat: Russia does not intend – this is very important, I am repeating this on purpose – Russia does not intend to deploy such missiles in Europe first. If they really are built and delivered to the European continent, and the United States has plans for this, at least we have not heard otherwise, it will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, and create a serious threat to Russia, because some of these missiles can reach Moscow in just 10–12 minutes. This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced, I would like to emphasise this, we will be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions. What does this mean?
I am saying this directly and openly now, so that no one can blame us later, so that it will be clear to everyone in advance what is being said here. Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from, but also in areas that contain decision-making centres for the missile systems threatening us.
What is important in this regard? There is some new information. These weapons will fully correspond to the threats directed against Russia in their technical specifications, including flight times to these decision-making centres.
This was the source of “media-induced” outrage in the West, which is honestly, likely not that much outrage. However, the addition of context in this speech is invaluable, and while the counter from the Americans may or may not be able to stipulate chapter and verse the violations of the INF treaty from the Russian side (though there appear to be no such violations), the Americans’ actions are clearly set in context, though conveniently ignored by the propagandists of the Western media. President Putin continues, making the most important points of his speech in regard to this topic:
We know how to do this and will implement these plans immediately, as soon as the threats to us become real. I do not think we need any further, irresponsible exacerbation of the current international situation. We do not want this.
What would I like to add? Our American colleagues have already tried to gain absolute military superiority with their global missile defence project. They need to stop deluding themselves. Our response will always be efficient and effective.
The work on promising prototypes and weapon systems that I spoke about in my Address last year continues as scheduled and without disruptions. We have launched serial production of the Avangard system, which I have already mentioned today. As planned, this year, the first regiment of the Strategic Missile Troops will be equipped with Avangard. The Sarmat super-heavy intercontinental missile of unprecedented power is undergoing a series of tests. The Peresvet laser weapon and the aviation systems equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles proved their unique characteristics during test and combat alert missions while the personnel learned how to operate them. Next December, all the Peresvet missiles supplied to the Armed Forces will be put on standby alert. We will continue expanding the infrastructure for the MiG-31 interceptors carrying Kinzhal missiles. The Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile of unlimited range and the Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle of unlimited range are successfully undergoing tests.
In this context, I would like to make an important statement. We did not announce it before, but today we can say that as soon as this spring the first nuclear-powered submarine carrying this unmanned vehicle will be launched. The work is going as planned.
Today I also think I can officially inform you about another promising innovation. As you may remember, last time I said we had more to show but it was a little early for that. So I will reveal little by little what else we have up our sleeves. Another promising innovation, which is successfully being developed according to plan, is Tsirkon, a hypersonic missile that can reach speeds of approximately Mach 9 and strike a target more than 1,000 km away both under water and on the ground. It can be launched from water, from surface vessels and from submarines, including those that were developed and built for carrying Kalibr high-precision missiles, which means it comes at no additional cost for us.
On a related note, I want to highlight that for the defence of Russia’s national interests, two or three years ahead of the schedule set by the state arms programme, the Russian Navy will receive seven new multipurpose submarines, and construction will begin on five surface vessels designed for the open ocean. Sixteen more vessels of this class will enter service in the Russian Navy by 2027.
To conclude, on the unilateral withdrawal by the USA from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, here is what I would like to say. The US policy toward Russia in recent years can hardly be called friendly. Russia’s legitimate interests are being ignored, there is constant anti-Russia campaigning, and more and more sanctions, which are illegal in terms of international law, are imposed without any reason whatsoever. Let me emphasise that we did nothing to provoke these sanctions. The international security architecture that took shape over the past decades is being completely and unilaterally dismantled, all while referring to Russia as almost the main threat to the USA.
Let me say outright that this is not true. Russia wants to have sound, equal and friendly relations with the USA. Russia is not threatening anyone, and all we do in terms of security is simply a response, which means that our actions are defensive. We are not interested in confrontation and we do not want it, especially with a global power like the United States of America. However, it seems that our partners fail to notice the depth and pace of change around the world and where it is headed. They continue with their destructive and clearly misguided policy. This hardly meets the interests of the USA itself. But this is not for us to decide.
We can see that we are dealing with proactive and talented people, but within the elite, there are also many people who have excessive faith in their exceptionalism and supremacy over the rest of the world. Of course, it is their right to think what they want. But can they count? Probably they can. So let them calculate the range and speed of our future arms systems. This is all we are asking: just do the maths first and take decisions that create additional serious threats to our country afterwards. It goes without saying that these decisions will prompt Russia to respond in order to ensure its security in a reliable and unconditional manner.
I have already said this, and I will repeat that we are ready to engage in disarmament talks, but we will not knock on a locked door anymore. We will wait until our partners are ready and become aware of the need for dialogue on this matter.
This is an appropriate and very honest stance. While it sounds forceful, it is not. It is actually the only thing one really can do. The US hawkish folks have not demonstrated the slightest interest in fixing this problem. In the US, they believe the exacerbation of tensions suits their ends.
This is a potentially tragic example of “my mind is made up; do not confuse me with the facts.” And sadly, the United States of America stands completely in the wrong on this matter.
We continue developing our Armed Forces and improving the intensity and quality of combat training, in part, using the experience we gained in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria. Much experience was gained by practically all the commanders of the Ground Forces, by covert operations forces and military police, warship crews, army, tactical, and strategic and military transport aviation.
I would like to emphasise again that we need peace for sustainable long-term development. Our efforts to enhance our defence capability are for only one purpose: to ensure the security of this country and our citizens so that nobody would even consider pressuring us, or launching an aggression against us.
While the rhetoric of “Defense” is always more palatable in our times than militarily offensive strategies, the difference between the defense rhetoric of the US and that of Russia is that the US creates threats out of thin air. Russia and China have the capability of taking over the world, but neither country is actually interested in doing such a thing. As noted by Russia’s own Vladimir Zhirinovsky, to be on top is not the best place, and the second and third great powers have shown unusual wisdom in understanding this.