Putin’s self-defense warning to the US becomes twisted by the media as an ‘unacceptable threat’

Finian Cunningham
Strategic Culture Foundation

With stupendous double-think, Western news media claimed this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “threatening” the United States and its NATO allies with nuclear missiles.

The New York Times accused the Russian leader of “nuclear saber-rattling” while Radio Free Europe headlined: ‘Putin threatens to target the US with missiles’. Many other news outlets conveyed the same depiction of Russia somehow escalating bellicose tensions, based on Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address this week.

Buried beneath the sensational headlines was a little more context that hints at the gross distortion being propagated by the Western media.

The New York Times disdained Putin was speaking with an “aggressive tone” and “doubling down on threats against the United States”.

The Times then went on to report: “President Vladimir Putin used his state-of-the-nation address to make some of his most explicit threats yet to start a nuclear arms race with the US after [sic] the Trump administration said this month that America was withdrawing from a landmark arms control treaty.”

Obliquely, but crucially, what the Western media coyly admit is that Putin’s remarks this week on deploying new missiles systems are in response to Washington’s decision to unilaterally abandon the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

In other words, decisions have consequences. But for the Western media, they seem to be only preoccupied by consequences.

Furthermore, the Washington Post added somewhere lurking in the bowels of its coverage: “Putin emphasized that Russia will only respond if the United States makes the first move.”

That is, if the US instals short- and medium-range missiles in Europe then Russia will take symmetrical measures to target America territory and that of its NATO allies.

Radio Free Europe even breezily reported Putin as saying, “we don’t want confrontation” and added: “Putin said Russia wanted friendly relations with the United States and remained open for arms control talks with Washington.”

So, Western media are correctly – albeit coyly – noting that the Russian leader is acting in response to actions taken by Washington, and that he is explicitly appealing for friendly relations instead of confrontation. And yet the headlines were all screaming that Putin was “threatening the US”.

This willful distortion is reprehensibly adding to already dangerous international tensions. It is also a baleful failure to accurately determine which party is actually responsible for the brooding confrontational climate. Russia is being blamed for “threatening” the US and its allies when the reality is the reverse: it is the US that is unleashing the dangers of nuclear conflict, as even the Western media obliquely admit.

The Trump administration’s decision to walk away – unilaterally – from the 1987 INF Treaty is the key here. The US side claims that Russia has violated the treaty with its development of a land-launched cruise missile within the banned range of 500-5,500 kilometers. Moscow counters that the 9M729 (also known as SSC-8) missile has an operating range below the lower limit banned by the INF. Last month, in an unprecedented move, the Russian ministry of defense publicly disclosed the missile’s flight specifications at a press conference. Moscow points out that the US has not provided substantiating details to back up its claims that Russia is in breach of the treaty.

For its part, Russia accuses the US side of violating the INF treaty by already installing missile systems in Romania and Poland which can deploy offensive cruise warheads as well as performing as anti-missile systems. The US says its Aegis Ashore system is solely defensive.

However, rather than negotiating through the claims and counter-claims, it is the US side which decided to terminate its participation in the INF Treaty – just like it did with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty back in 2002 under President GW Bush.

The abandonment of a second major arms control accord is solely the responsibility of the US. The third remaining treaty, New START, is also at risk from redundancy by Washington.

With the INF now being trashed, the US has freed itself to potentially deploy additional missile systems in Europe right on Russia’s borders. The eastward expansion of NATO over the past three decades means that US nuclear weapons could be deployed with a strike capability on Moscow within 10-12 minutes, not hours as with strategic warheads.

President Putin this week noted that Washington has not indicated if it will refrain from installing medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.

But the Russian leader emphatically specified the condition that “if” the US does embark on such a threatening deployment then Russia will take “symmetrical measures”. He warned that new hypersonic and submarine-launched missiles will be deployed to match the 10-12 minute flight time that the US could poise against Moscow. The Russian weapons will target European launch sites for the US missiles as well as “decision-making centers” in American territory.

Of course, such a dramatic proximity of nuclear capability is extremely alarming and deplorable. The risk of error is manifold greater in such a scenario in a way that far exceeds the Cold War decades. Putin noted that the scenario recalls the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when the world almost witnessed a nuclear war. The reference point is apt for today’s predicament. The Soviet Union deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 after the US installed ballistic missiles in Turkey the year before in 1961. Again, as now, it is the US side that is initiating the dynamics of provocation.

Any objective observer can see that it is the US that is continually upping the ante for nuclear war. The jettisoning of the ABM is now followed by the US discarding the INF based on dubious, unverified claims. Russia in fact views the ulterior rationale of the US as covertly wanting to free itself from the arms controls restriction in order to exert threatening pressure on Moscow for geopolitical goals: those goals may include forcing Russia to be compliant with American foreign policy interests, or opening up Russia’s natural resources to American capital exploitation, and so on.

Putin’s remarks this week are clearly consistent with Russia’s defensive doctrine for using nuclear forces. Moscow is patently stating that it will take “reciprocal steps” if Washington follows through on its offensive trajectory. Yet Western media invert the situation to portray Russia as “threatening” the US.

This is analogous to a gang marauding outside a home. Then the mob ringleader announces that projectiles are to be readied to lob over the garden wall. The homeowner shouts out: just try it and we’ll shoot your henchmen. Nobody in their right mind could fault the homeowner. It’s called self-defense.

But in Russia’s case, self-defense is twisted by dutiful, brainwashed Western news media as “unacceptable threat”.