President Vladimir Putin warned that Russians would “knock out the teeth” of those who attack their country or eye its vast territory, amid a deep crisis in ties with the West. Speaking at a government meeting, the Kremlin chief said that Russia’s enemies were looking to clip its wings every time the nation grew strong. He said, “Everyone wants to bite us somewhere or to bite off something from us. But they –
– those who are going to do it — should know that we will knock out their teeth so that they cannot bite.” Putin claimed that Russia now has the most modern strategic nuclear forces compared to other nuclear powers, including such state-of-the-art weapons as the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle.
Putin said the country has successfully revamped its arsenals without inflicting too heavy a burden on the national economy by carefully choosing the military priorities. He noted that Russia this year is set to spend an equivalent of $42 billion on defense, compared to the Pentagon’s budget topping $700 billion.
“We have managed to support our armed forces without militarizing the state budget, and we will continue doing so,” Putin said. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia, the world’s largest country by landmass, is “too big for some”, Putin said. He did not name Russia’s adversaries explicitly but said it was important to keep developing the armed forces to protect the country.
The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, is known not to mince words during public meetings. In 1999, he famously promised to strike at separatists even in the “outhouse” which heralded the adoption of tougher tactics by the authorities against Chechen militants.
Tensions between Moscow and the West are high over a litany of issues, including Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, interference in US elections, and other perceived hostile activities. But signs of a possible detente have recently been growing, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging dialogue during a face-to-face meeting in Reykjavik on May 19.
Meanwhile, Moscow said it saw “no grounds” for conflict in the Arctic but warned the West about militarising on Russia’s doorstep. Tracy Wilkinson wrote an article about the US-Russia confrontation in this process. Melting ice in the Arctic because of intense climate change has allowed Russia to push its military apparatus, complete with bomber aircraft, radar, and missile batteries, deeperinto the coveted geopolitical hotspot, gradually taking advantage of newly freed-up shipping lanes and gaining access to vast mineral resources.
Russia declared much of the Arctic to be Russian territory. The council, made up of eight nations with territorial interests in the Arctic Circle, was formed a quarter-century ago and is also supposed to represent the region’s Indigenous peoples; Iceland is the current chair, to be followed by Russia.
Blinken and Lavrov, as they headed into their encounter after an elbow-bump greeting, spoke briefly to reporters and emphasized their differences, each saying his government would aggressively defend its interests. “But having said that,” Blinken added, “there are many areas where our interests and overlap and we believe that we can work together and indeed build on those interests,” including the pandemic and climate change.
“We seek a predictable, stable relationship with Russia.” On the other side, Blinken announced the administration decided to waive sanctions on the company building a Russian gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, from the Arctic to Germany.
The U.S. will sanction some entities involved in the construction, but in a report to Congress, Blinken concluded that although the company and its chief executive, Matthias Warnig, may have broken rules that deserved to be rebuked, it was in the U.S. “national interest” to waive sanctions against them for now. The move angered Republicans and some Democrats, who said it was a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Blinken and President Biden have repeatedly said the $11-billion pipeline was a “bad deal” because it enhanced European dependency on Russian energy.
But some in the administration argued against punishment that would harm Germany and other key allies, at a time the Biden team is attempting to repair relations strained under former President Trump. Ahead of the much-anticipated Blinken-Lavrov meeting, America’s top diplomat criticized Russia’s advances in the Arctic.
He said, Moscow has violated international maritime law by attempting to restrict the transit of other nations’ shipping vessels and has refused to submit its regulatory schemes to the world body that governs such matters, the International Maritime Organization. In a week of consultations with other members of the Arctic Council, Blinken repeatedly assailed Russia’s “militarization” of the northern ice cap region. “It is our hope,” Blinken said, “the Arctic remains an area of peaceful cooperation and peaceful collaboration.”
Putin also said that
“We strongly recommend that our Turkish colleagues carefully analyse the situation and stop fuelling Kyiv’s militaristic sentiment,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Argumenty i Fakty newspaper.
He said that encouraging “aggressive” Ukrainian actions towards Russian-annexed Crimea amounted to an encroachment on Russia’s territorial integrity.
But, he added, “What we need to avoid is a militarization of the region.” He said military activity by Russia risks “accidents, miscalculations, and undermines the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region.” The Arctic is warming at three times the global planet rate, thawing permafrost, the ground that had remained frozen for centuries, and gravely damaging sea species and other fauna and the livelihood of legions of Indigenous groups. “What we are seeing is the opening of a new ocean:
the Arctic Ocean,” said Marisol Maddox, an Arctic analyst at the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute. “The ice cap on the top of the world is getting smaller and thinner.” Biden also made a strong case for fair maritime rules and U.S. presence amid the vanishing glaciers and polar bears. “We, the United States, are an Arctic nation,” he declared in a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy.
The comments from the president and secretary of State came after Lavrov seemed to stake out Russia’s claim. Lavrov said he was aware of “lamentations” about stepped-up Russian military activity in the Arctic. “But everyone knew perfectly well for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land,” the Russian foreign minister said at a news conference in Moscow before traveling to Reykjavik. “Everything that our country is doing there is absolutely legal and legitimate.” He also accused Scandinavian neighbor Norway of trying to insert NATO,
the U.S.-led transatlantic military and political alliance built as a counterbalance to Moscow, into the Arctic. Despite the friction, Blinken and Lavrov discussed a potential summit between Biden and Putin as soon as next month but will leave it to the Kremlin and White House to work out the details. In contrast to Trump’s admiration of Putin, Biden has been more critical. In March, in answer to a reporter’s question,
Biden said he believed the Russian former KGB operative to be a killer. At the same time, as with his approach to China, Biden says he wants to be able to criticize leaders like Putin or Russia’s actions when appropriate and cooperate with them when possible. U.S.-Russia relations have sunk to a low point after Washington’s intelligence community accused Moscow of interfering in U.S. presidential elections and of launching cyberattacks on U.S. businesses and communications grids.
In addition, Putin and his cronies have been sanctioned by the Biden administration, and the Trump government before it, for invading parts of Ukraine, killing or poisoning opponents, and cracking down on the press and religious groups. Despite such deep-seated differences, Blinken and Lavrov will probably continue to seek common ground, experts said.