MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Tuesday for the development of new offensive weapons systems to "preserve a strategic balance" against the United States.
The Russian leader also demanded that Washington disclose more details of its planned missile defense deployments and technology. Putin warned that a powerful missile shield, which has long irritated a nervous Kremlin, could make the United States feel safe enough to become more aggressive in its dealings with the rest of the world.
"What preserved peace, even in Cold War conditions, was a balance of forces," Putin said.
The provocative comments from the man widely regarded as Russia's most powerful leader were emblematic of lingering fears and clashing worldviews as U.S. and Russian negotiators struggle to finalize a long-anticipated deal to cut nuclear stockpiles.
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The nuclear deal, agreed upon in broad terms in April, has been trumpeted as the centerpiece of the Obama administration's drive to salvage a badly dented relationship with Moscow. Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed to cut their respective nuclear arsenals by as much as a third.
Despite vague but encouraging statements from officials on both sides, however, a final agreement remains elusive. The details weren't finalized by the time the previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expired in early December. Nor do negotiators appear ready to finish the deal by year's end, as once expected. They packed up and went home the weekend before Christmas.
Nevertheless, American officials said Tuesday that they were unfazed by Putin's comments and that they expected to finalize an agreement when negotiations resumed in January.
A U.S. official said: "We have made substantial progress in the negotiations and remain confident that when talks resume in January that we'll be able to finalize an agreement."
That confidence echoes the tone of Russian officials.
On Tuesday, Putin was perhaps most damning in the dismissive tone he took toward the hard-chased agreement.
"You know, some think that (the treaty) is not needed at all," he said. "Some think it is."
While brushing aside the question of agreed nuclear regulations ("their presence is better than their absence"), Putin described the two countries as still needing to arm themselves in response to one another.