Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that while foreign foes may dream about biting off pieces of the country’s vast territory, Moscow would “knock their teeth out” if they tried.
In strong remarks during a conference call with officials, Putin noted that foreign efforts to contain Russia date from centuries ago.
“In all times, the same thing happened: Once Russia grew stronger, they found pretexts to hamper its development,” he said, alleging that some critics of Russia, who he didn’t name, have argued that it’s unfair for the nation to keep its vast natural riches to itself.
“Everyone wants to bite us or bite something off us, but those who would like to do so should know that we would knock their teeth out so that they couldn’t bite,” the Russian leader said. “The development of our military is the guarantee of that.”
The Kremlin has made modernization of the country’s armed forces a top priority amid tensions in relations with the U.S. and its allies. Russia-West ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, accusations of Russian meddling in elections, hacking attacks, and other issues.
Putin said Western sanctions against Russia are continuing a historic trend of attempting to contain a powerful rival. He cited Russian Czar Alexander III, who stated, “Everyone is afraid of our vastness.”
“Even after we lost one-third of our potential” when former Soviet republics became independent after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, “Russia is still too big for some,” Putin said.
“No matter what we do, no matter how we try to satisfy the appetites of those who are trying to contain us, the containment will continue because many of our opponents just don’t want such a country as Russia,” he said. “But we, citizens of the Russian Federation, need it, and we will do everything to not just preserve but strengthen it.”
He claimed that Russia now has the most modern strategic nuclear forces compared to other nuclear powers, including such state-of-the-art weapons as the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle.
The Russian military has said that the Avangard is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound and making sharp maneuvers on its way to target, dodging an enemy’s missile shield.
It has been fitted to the existing Soviet-built intercontinental ballistic missiles, with the first unit armed with the Avangard becoming active in December 2019. The military said that in the future Avangard could be fitted to a prospective heavy missile called Sarmat that is under development.
Putin has also touted other prospective weapons, including the Poseidon atomic-powered underwater drone armed with a nuclear weapon that may be capable of generating devastating tsunami waves near an enemy coast. Its tests are continuing.
Putin said Russia has succeeded in revamping its arsenals without inflicting too heavy a burden on the national economy by carefully choosing military priorities.
He noted that Russia this year is set to spend $42 billion on defense, compared to the Pentagon’s budget topping $700 billion.
“We have managed to support our armed forces without militarizing the state budget, and we will continue doing so,” Putin said.