Vladimir Putin: Russia Will Aim Missiles at U.S. 'Decision-Making Centers' if Threatened

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to train his nation's nuclear weapons on American "decision-making centers" if Washington deploys new missile systems in Europe.

In a state-of-the-nation address, Putin said Moscow did not seek confrontation with the U.S. but would not hesitate to defend itself against any strategic developments that threatened its security, The Associated Press reported.

Putin made his threat as Washington and Moscow sparred over the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which President Donald Trump has withdrawn, citing Russia's violations.

The 1987 deal, forged by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 310 miles to 3,417 miles. This forced the superpower foes to remove close to 2,700 missiles from the front lines of the Cold War. But the agreement's collapse has raised fears of a new arms race in Europe.

In his speech, Putin dismissed "far-fetched" American allegations that Moscow had violated the INF Treaty through production of the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile. The president said Russia would not be the first to field new intermediate-range missiles in Europe but said he would not hesitate to act if the U.S. did.

"We don't want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the U.S.," Putin explained, according to Agence France-Presse. "I'm saying this clearly and openly. Russia will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used…against the decision-making centers that are behind the missile systems which threaten us."

The Russian leader has already warned that the Kremlin has started work on weapons that would have breached the INF Treaty. On Wednesday, he said U.S. leaders should consider the "range and speed of our prospective weapons" before making any decisions that may threaten Russia.

Though Putin stressed he would be open to fresh arms control negotiations, the president said Russia would not initiate discussions and would instead wait for the Americans to do so.

Putin also updated the audience on the progress of Russia's newest weapons. The president explained that a new hypersonic missile—the Zircon, which Russia claims can fly at nine times the speed of sound to a range of 620 miles—will be deployed on the navy's surface ships and submarines.

Other weapons announced at last year's address—including the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile and Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone—have been undergoing successful testing in preparation for active deployment, Putin said.

Vladimir Putin nuclear weapons missiles Europe
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, on December 12, 2012. Putin has threatened to train his nation's nuclear weapons on American “decision-making centers” if Washington deploys new missile systems in Europe. ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images