Russia is expanding and modernizing its nuclear arsenal, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing setbacks in Ukraine, repeatedly suggested he could use weapons nuclear.
Austin’s comments are consistent with a recent Pentagon policy paper on nuclear weapons.
Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, with nearly 6,000 warheads, experts say. Together, Russia and the United States hold about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, enough to destroy the planet multiple times over.
“Russia is also modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal,” Austin said at a ceremony for the new commander of US Strategic Command, which oversees the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
“And as the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the world has watched Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear attacks,” Austin said.
Russia has said it will pay particular attention to building infrastructure for its nuclear forces in 2023.
Earlier on Friday, Putin promised at a press conference that any country that dared to attack Russia with nuclear weapons would be wiped off the face of the earth.
Putin said Russia had no mandate to launch a preemptive nuclear first strike, but that Russia’s advanced hypersonic weapons would allow Russia to respond forcefully if ever attacked.
On September 21, Putin warned the West that he was not bluffing when he said he would be prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. On September 30, he said the United States had set a precedent by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.
Russian officials say the West has repeatedly misinterpreted statements from the Kremlin.
The United States has warned Russia of the consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.
Russia and the United States were due to hold talks in recent weeks over their existing NEW START treaty, which limits the number of warheads each can deploy.
But Moscow pulled out on the eve of the meeting, accusing the United States of toxic anti-Russian behavior and trying to manipulate the treaty to its advantage.