Russia ready to deploy missiles in Arctic, Baltic and Crimea in 2019
- President Vladimir Putin has also written to Western leaders, including Donald Trump and Theresa May, to wish them a happy new year
Russia will in 2019 deploy the S-350 Vityaz new generation short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile complex, the Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday, in move to replace its ageing S-300 system.
At the same time, President Vladimir Putin has written to his US counterpart Donald Trump to try to mend fences damaged during a turbulent 2018.
Moscow’s Defence Ministry said the Russian military deployed Pantsir-S and S-400 complexes in 2018 in Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as in its Arctic region, the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, and in its easternmost Khabarovsk region.
Russia has been flexing its military muscles abroad in recent years, and its involvement in the Syrian conflict and Ukraine has soured relations with the West.
Moscow has in the past justified missile deployments saying they counter build-ups by Western forces in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.
In a dispute over a separate, longer range missile system, Washington has threatened to pull out of the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), claiming that a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 – called SSC-8 by Nato – violates the pact.
The arms control treaty bans either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe. Russia denies the missile violates the INF and accuses the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit the treaty so it can develop new missiles.
Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would deploy its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles next year, insisting the move meant his country now had a new type of strategic weapon.
Vityaz (Knight) is a short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile system, developed by Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation.
The Kremlin said in March Russia would cut its defence budget to less than 3 per cent of gross domestic product within the next five years.
Putin, in his letter to Trump, said Moscow was ready for dialogue on a “wide-ranging agenda”, according to the Kremlin.
At the end of November, Trump abruptly cancelled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina, citing tensions about Russian forces opening fire on Ukrainian navy boats and then seizing them.
“Vladimir Putin stressed that [Russia – US] relations are the most important factor for providing strategic stability and international security,” a Kremlin statement said. “He confirmed that Russia is open for dialogue with the USA on the most wide-ranging agenda.”
In a separate letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Putin pledged to continue supplying aid to the Syrian government and people in the “fight against terrorism, in defence of state sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Putin also sent new year greetings to other world leaders including prime ministers Theresa May of Britain and Shinzo Abe of Japan, as well as President Xi Jinping.
Putin wished “well-being and prosperity to the British people”, the Kremlin said.
Russia’s embassy in London said on Friday Moscow and London had agreed to return some staff to their respective embassies after they expelled dozens of diplomats early this year.
Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats over accusations the Kremlin was behind a nerve toxin attack in March on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
Russia, which denies involvement, sent home the same number of British embassy workers in retaliation.