Putin Accuses U.S. of Triggering an Arms Race

By Anatoly Kurmanaev and Ann M. Simmons

Updated Dec. 20, 2018 8:26 a.m. ET

Russian president also welcomes Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria


MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the U.S. for triggering a new arms race and raising the threat of a nuclear war, slamming Washington for abandoning Cold War-era missile treaties even as he boasted of Moscow’s plans to develop new weapons.

In a wide-ranging news conference, Mr. Putin also said Russia supports the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from Syria, although he raised doubts as to whether Washington will pull out entirely from a country that has provided a critical beachhead for Moscow’s push in the Middle East.

Mr. Putin’s four-hour exchange with more than 1,500 journalists capped a tense year in which Russia came under tightening Western sanctions, forged deeper ties with China and has struggled to revive its middling economy.

His stance on foreign-policy issues ranging from Ukraine to Japan were colored by Russia’s rising geopolitical competition with the U.S.

Russia, whose military budget is only about a 10th of the U.S.’s, has sought to expand its influence in regions where the U.S. has pulled back, most notably in providing critical support that allowed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat the opposition in the civil war.

Moscow has also sought to gain new footholds in Africa and the Arctic—all in a bid to return Russia to great power politics. Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. to pull out of Syria will likely give Mr. Putin even more leverage in the Middle East.

Mr. Putin addressed the issue of arms proliferation, defending Moscow’s decision to develop a new generation of rockets, a choice he said was driven by the U.S. decision to withdraw from a treaty on medium-range nuclear weapons. The unraveling of arms control, he said, is bringing the world closer to nuclear war.

 “I don’t want to hear them [the West] shrieking that we’re seeking an edge in arms,” he said. “We don’t want an advantage. We want to maintain balance.”

He accused the U.S. of double standards as it seeks to undermine Russia. Washington’s tough and swift sanctions against Moscow for allegedly trying to poison a former spy with a nerve agent, he said, contrast with President Trump’s reluctance to punish Saudi Arabia for killing a prominent journalist.

“This politicized, Russia-phobic approach is an excuse to organize yet another attack on Russia,” he said. “They have one goal: to slow the development of Russia.”

The Russian president also defended the controversial work of Russia’s military contractors in the Central African Republic, saying any business has a right to fight for contracts anywhere in the world as long as it abides by local laws. Three Russian journalists were killed earlier this year in CAR while investigating the work of Wagner, a Russian military contractor linked to the country’s Defense Ministry.

Write to Anatoly Kurmanaev at Anatoly.kurmanaev@wsj.com


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