Russia's addition of 40 long-range missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year doesn't signal a new arms race or a threat to any country, Kremlin officials insisted Wednesday.
The expansion, part of a decade-long $500-billion modernization of Russian defense forces and weapons, has been forced on Moscow by aggressive moves by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
"It is not Russia that approaches somebody else's borders, it is NATO's military infrastructure that approaches Russian borders," Peskov was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency.
His comments followed criticism from the top diplomats of the United States, Germany and NATO after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at a major arms show on Tuesday that Russia would add the new intercontinental ballistic missiles "capable of penetrating any, even the most technologically advanced missile defense systems."
Putin's high-profile announcement and fresh reminder to the West of Russia's nuclear capabilities was seen as a reaction to reports that U.S. forces and heavy weapons will be stationed in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia at the request of those former Soviet states that are now members of NATO.
The Baltic states and Poland have sought more visible NATO protection since Russia seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimean region and sent fighters and weapons to aid separatists controlling other areas of southeastern Ukraine. The Kremlin denies involvement in the pro-Russia insurgency, in which more than 6,400 have been killed in the last 14 months, but captured fighters and satellite surveillance show otherwise.
Kremlin officials contend the uprising in eastern Ukraine was sparked by a Western-inspired coup d'etat that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally who was attempting to derail Ukraine's move toward eventual membership in the European Union and NATO.
Russia's annexation of Crimea has been condemned by the international community and prompted sanctions by the European Union and the United States. On Wednesday, European Union diplomats voted to extend their sanctions against Russia through January 2016, a decision pending formal ratification by member country foreign ministers on Monday.
A senior foreign policy official lashed out at the "symbolic date -- June 22" for extension of the sanctions as evidence that Western leaders have little understanding of Russia. June 22, 1941, was the date of Nazi Germany's surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, in betrayal of the secret nonaggression pact signed by Hitler and Stalin two years earlier.
"It's more than likely that this date rings no bell with many Europeans, which is a pity," Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council upper house, wrote on his Facebook page after the vote in Brussels. He lamented Europeans' "attempts to understand Russia and foresee our response ... [but] their inability to do so."
Putin's announcement that at least 40 more ICBMs would be deployed by year's end, adding to the estimated 1,780 nuclear warheads already stationed around the country, drew immediate criticism from the Western military alliance. A State Department report says Russia has 890 ICBMs, 515 of which are deployed.
"This nuclear sabre-rattling by Russia is unjustified, destabilizing and it is dangerous," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said of Putin's comments at the arms show, where more than 100 Russian weapons manufacturers have their weapons on display.
Putin advisor Yuri Ushakov denied Russia was acting offensively.
"Russia is not entering an arms race. It is trying to provide a response to possible threats," he said, reiterating the Kremlin view that the country is at risk of NATO aggression.
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry called Putin's missile announcement a threat of setting disarmament aims a "step backwards" after more than two decades of progress following the 1991 strategic arms limitation accord signed by the United States and the Soviet Union.
"We're trying to move in the opposite direction," Kerry said, referring to the START treaty's aim of reducing nuclear missiles.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added his voice to the chorus of criticism spurred by Putin's arms show visit.
"President Putin's announcement to stock up Russia's strategic missile arsenal is unnecessary and certainly doesn't contribute to stability and an easing of tension in Europe," Steinmeier told the Spiegel Online news magazine.