WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- Russian leader Vladimir Putin warned Sunday that he would never agree to a new strategic arms reduction treaty with the United States until U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to scrap plans to deploy 10 ballistic missile interceptors in Poland.
The plan, originally developed by the Bush administration, is intended to protect the United States and Western Europe from the threat of Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be equipped with nuclear weapons. But Putin, Russia's prime minister and former president, and his government have long claimed the proposed bases could be used to neutralize any survivable second-strike capability by Russia.
Putin said that if the 10 ground-based midcourse interceptors, known as GBIs, were still deployed, Obama and future U.S. presidents would feel so confident and powerful that "the threat of global confrontation will reach a very dangerous level."
"One needn't be an expert to understand: If one party wants or would have an umbrella against all kinds of threats, this party would develop an illusion that it is allowed to do anything and then the aggressiveness of its actions will increase numerously, and the threat of global confrontation will reach a very dangerous level," he told Japanese journalists Sunday, according to the RIA Novosti news agency, before flying to Tokyo on a visit.
Putin gave his warning the day after the Russian government celebrated Victory Day, the 64th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, with the largest public display of military and nuclear force the world has seen since the Soviet Union disintegrated 17 and a half years ago at the end of 1991.
Nuclear bombers flew over Moscow, and main battle tanks rumbled through its streets. The Russian air force also publicly displayed its S-400 Triumf -- NATO designation Growler -- the most advanced anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system in the world.
The S-400 is believed to have an operational range of 250 miles. If the claims for it by Russian officials are true, it has a far greater range, operational ceiling and maximum speed than its U.S counterpart, the MIM-104 Patriot. U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Kremlin may supply the S-400 to Iran, which has already received the earlier but still formidable S-300 longer-range and Tor-M1 shorter-range, lower-altitude air-defense systems.
Russia has already said it will sell the S-400 to its close ally and next-door neighbor Belarus, which guards the traditional route of invasion into Russia from Europe. Deploying the S-400s in Belarus as well as the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad jutting into Poland on the Baltic coast would also carry the threat of denying the United States and its NATO allies command of the air over large regions of Central Europe in the event of any conventional war in Europe..
The new Obama administration in Washington came to office with high hopes of concluding a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia before the current START-1 treaty, signed in 1991, runs out at the end of this year.
However, Russian leaders have been disappointed by Obama's refusal to scrap plans for the proposed GBI base in Poland and an advanced radar tracking and guidance facility to be built nearby in the Czech Republic. Putin's comments Sunday served notice that, as we have previously predicted in these columns, Russia will refuse to seriously negotiate a replacement treaty for START unless the BMD base plans are scrapped first.
The first round of talks on the new strategic arms reduction treaty are due to begin in Moscow from May 18-20.
Part 2: How tensions in Georgia could torpedo hopes for START