Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin says he will respond to the defensive missile system the United States and its partners are building in Eastern Europe, because it threatens Russia’s security.
The Russian president said strong “counter-measures” will be enacted to the NATO deployment, and he emphasized that his country is reacting to the Western action, not making the first move in a confrontation.
Speaking to reporters in Athens, where he met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Friday, Putin also ruled out any discussions about the status of Crimea, the former Ukrainian territory that Russia has annexed.
“This question is closed forever,” the Russian leader said.
There was no immediate U.S. response to the comments by Putin, who remained in Greece Saturday, touring Mount Athos, one of Orthodox Christianity’s holiest sites.
On the missile defense system planned for deployment in Poland and Romania, Putin said: “NATO fends us off with vague statements that this is no threat to Russia.”
Recalling the stated purpose of the missile system as a “preventive measure” against possible hostile action by Iran, Putin said that threat “does not exist,” particularly in the aftermath of the nuclear agreement the United States and other Western powers reached with Tehran last year.
Putin said Russia will take strong measures in the interest of its security vis-à-vis the missile deployments, but he was short on details about Moscow’s plan to respond, saying only that Russia will not make the first move.
“If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the cross-hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,” Putin said. “I repeat that these are countermeasures, countermeasures. We will not take any first steps. It will be the same case with Poland. We will wait until Poland takes certain action. We will not take any action … until we see rockets in areas that border us.”
Romania Deveselu missile facility became operational earlier this month. Although the U.S. and NATO have repeatedly said the system is completely defensive, Putin said the missiles could easily be transformed into offensive weapons “by simply switching the software.”
On Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Putin said Moscow acted on the will of the Crimean people, who voted to join Russia.
“As far as Crimea is concerned, we consider this question is closed forever. This was a historical decision taken by the people that live in Crimea. Russia will not conduct any discussions with anyone on this subject,” said Putin.
Putin’s visit to Mount Athos Saturday is part of events celebrating 1,000 years of Russian presence there. About 70 Russian, Ukrainian and other Orthodox monks live at the Mount Athos monastery.
Accompanied by Greece’s Prime Minister Tsipras, Putin toured the Byzantine Museum in Athens Friday to promote cultural ties between Russia and Greece.