MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia must defend itself if threatened, as the US warned against a return to a "Cold War status" after Moscow announced plans to boost its nuclear arsenal.
The declaration from the Kremlin strongman came as Russia reacted with fury to reports the US is planning to bulk up its military deployments in eastern Europe, adding to already high tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.
Putin said NATO – which has accused Russia of backing rebels in eastern Ukraine with weapons and its own troops, a claim Moscow denies – of "coming to our borders".
"If someone puts some of our territories under threat, that means we will have to direct our armed forces and modern strike power at those territories, from where the threat emanates," he said at a meeting with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.
"As soon as some threat comes from an adjoining state, Russia must react appropriately and carry out its defence policy in such a way as to neutralise a threat against it," Putin added.
On Tuesday Putin once again raised the spectre of the conflict by announcing plans to boost Russia's nuclear arsenal by the end of the year.
"This year, the size of our nuclear forces will increase by over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles that will be able to overcome any, even the most technologically advanced, missile defence systems," Putin said at the opening of an exhibition of military hardware outside Moscow.
The New York Times reported at the weekend that the Pentagon was poised to station heavy weapons for up to 5,000 American troops in several Eastern European and Baltic countries to deter Russian aggression.
This would be the first time since the end of the Cold War that the US has had heavy military equipment – including battle tanks – in newer NATO members that were under Moscow's influence in the Soviet era.
Poland said on Sunday it was in talks with Washington about storing heavy US weaponry on its soil.
US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said F-22 fighter jets could be deployed to Europe as the standoff with Moscow rumbles on, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
Russia's foreign ministry has lashed out at the mooted US deployments in the region, warning that the move could "take on a life of its own". Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov on Tuesday accused NATO of "pushing (Moscow) towards an arms race," state-run agency RIA Novosti reported.
Putin on Tuesday toured a vast arms fair at a site outside the capital that is set to become a "Patriot Park" which will showcase Moscow's military might.
The Russian leader, who enjoys sky-high approval ratings and has pumped vast sums into retooling Russia's armed forces, praised the country's military-industrial complex as a "locomotive for innovation". -- AFP