Putin’s Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly: Need for Fear?

By Luke Seifert

On March 1st, 2018, Russian president Vladimir Putin gave his presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly. The speech was focused on two main topics: the development of Russia and its people, and Russian national security. Specifically, Putin spent much of his speech discussing advances Russia has made in nuclear weaponry.

A CGI Video showing the weapons Putin speaks about played during the speech, and at one point appeared to be depicting nuclear weapon usage on the United States. It has yet to be confirmed whether this was intentional.

Photo Retrieved from Russia Today’s video of Putin’s address

According to Time Magazine and several federal officials, the Russian technological advances are not surprising and are no cause for alarm. But there are several important reasons why Putin wanted to talk about these newly developed weapons. For one, Russian presidential elections were coming up, and by showing off powerful new weaponry, Putin wanted to inspire people to vote for him by showing the progress made during his term. Furthermore, the discussed weapons also demonstrate Russia’s power and technological capabilities to the world.

More specifically, these new weapons were primarily shown to counter the U.S.’s expanding ballistic missile defense system. As Putin says in his March 1st speech, “I will say once again what we have repeatedly told our American and European partners who are NATO members: we will make the necessary efforts to neutralize the threats posed by the deployment of the US global missile defense system.

Time Magazine notes that the U.S. missile defense system is not capable of stopping a vast majority of Russian nuclear weapons if fired simultaneously. The system exists so that in the event of a rogue nation, such as North Korea, attacking the US, the US can defend itself. But Putin sees it as a threat, a means by which the U.S. can achieve first-strike capabilities without fear of Russian retaliation.

Putin likely did not demonstrate Russia’s new weapons as a threat. Rather, they’re a political rebuttal to the expanding missile defense system of the US. By showing off Russia’s new nuclear weapons, Putin implicitly argues that if the U.S. continues to expand its missile defense system, Russia will modify its new nuclear weapons to counter it.

Putin further indicates that he wants the U.S. to cease expansion of the missile defense system:

“We are not threatening anyone, not going to attack anyone or take away anything from anyone with the threat of weapons. We do not need anything. Just the opposite. I deem it necessary to emphasize (and it is very important) that Russia’s growing military power is a solid guarantee of global peace as this power preserves and will preserve strategic parity and the balance of forces in the world, which, as is known, have been and remain a key factor of international security after WWII and up to the present day.

The unveiling of the weapons is also likely in response to the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which Putin briefly mentions during the speech, stating, “…what is written is that this strategy [nuclear weapons] can be put into action in response to conventional arms attacks and even to a cyber-threat.By revealing these new nuclear weapons, Putin wants to send the U.S. a reminder that there must be a balance of forces, and that neither side should resort to using nuclear weapons.

Putin did not want to directly threaten any nation. But he did want to flex Russia’s nuclear might, and in doing so send the U.S. a clear message about how they would respond to U.S. global military presence.
(watch the video here or read the transcript here)

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