Putin says Russia beefing up nuclear arsenal, NATO denounces 'sabre-rattling'

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Nato Chief Calls Russian Nuclear Threats 'Deeply Troubling'

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia would add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to its nuclear arsenal this year, prompting NATO's chief to accuse Moscow of dangerous "sabre-rattling".

Putin made his announcement a day after Russian officials denounced a U.S. plan to station tanks and heavy weapons in NATO member states on Russia's border as the most aggressive act by Washington since the Cold War a generation ago.

Tension has flared anew between Russia and Western powers over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, in which pro-Russian separatist forces have seized a large part of the country's east after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014.

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Putin says Russia beefing up nuclear arsenal, NATO denounces 'sabre-rattling'
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a seat before a meeting to mark International Women's Day, in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass of champagne after a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 10, 2016. AFP PHOTO / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AFP / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN (Photo credit should read PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA. MARCH 1, 2016. Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the 7th congress of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (CCI). Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin waves as he leaves the Italian pavilion at the 2015 Expo, in Rho, near Milan, Italy, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Putin was meeting Wednesday with Italian officials and Pope Francis as the U.S. sought to encourage the Vatican to join the West in condemning Moscow's actions in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Pope Francis meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of a private audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, flanked on his right by Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, waves as he leaves after visiting the Russian pavilion at the 2015 Expo in Rho, near Milan, Italy, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Putin was meeting Wednesday with Italian officials and Pope Francis as the U.S. sought to encourage the Vatican to join the West in condemning Moscow's actions in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during a meeting with foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu leave Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2015 after the Victory Day military parade. Russian President Vladimir Putin presides over a huge Victory Day parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet win over Nazi Germany, amid a Western boycott of the festivities over the Ukraine crisis. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, May 10, 2015. Angela Merkel attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. The Defenders of the Fatherland Day, celebrated in Russia on Feb. 23, honors the nation's military and is a nationwide holiday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after the peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday emerged from marathon Ukraine peace talks by announcing a new cease-fire deal, but questions remained whether Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels have agreed on its terms. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, May 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with the leader of Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / IVAN SEKRETAREV (Photo credit should read IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles, during his meeting with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in the Konstantin Palace outside St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, March 16, 2015. Putin resurfaced Monday after a 10-day absence from public view, looking healthy. (AP Photo/Anatoly Maltsev, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, enter a hall for a meeting of CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. The Russian economy will rebound and the ruble will stabilize, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday at his annual press conference, he also said Ukraine must remain one political entity, voicing hope that the crisis could be solved through peace talks. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, gestures during his talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and French President Francois Hollande, right, in Moscow, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. In a top-level diplomatic dash, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Moscow on Friday to seek a cease-fire and then a lasting peace for war-wracked eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - FEBRUARY 17: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks on as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kisses the hand of a member of the Russian delegation during a signing ceremony of several agreements between the two countries on February 17, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Putin is in Budapest on a one-day visit, his first visit to an EU-member country since he attended ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions in France in June, 2014. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 16: Russia President Vladimir Putin waves during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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The European Union and United States imposed economic sanctions on Russia. But Washington and Moscow are still bound by a 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that caps deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 each and limits the numbers of strategic nuclear missile launchers to 800 by 2018.

"More than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles able to overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems will be added to the make-up of the nuclear arsenal this year," Putin, flanked by army officers, said in a speech at an arms fair west of Moscow.

ICBMs have a minimum range of more than 5,500 km (3,400 miles). Putin gave no more details of which missiles were being added to the nuclear arsenal.

He has repeatedly urged Russia to maintain its nuclear deterrence to counter what he sees as growing security threats. Moscow also reserves the right to deploy nuclear arms in Crimea.

Such comments have helped whip up anti-Western sentiment and rally support behind Putin but have caused disquiet in the West, particularly countries on or near Russia's borders that were under Soviet domination during the Cold War.

Responding quickly to Putin's remarks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of unwarranted "sabre rattling" and said this was "destabilizing and dangerous".

At a news briefing in Brussels, Stoltenberg said such rhetoric from Moscow explained the Western alliance's increased preparedness on the part of its forces to defend its member states closest to Russia.

"This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified. This is something we are addressing, and it's also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces," Stoltenberg said.

"We are responding by making sure that NATO also in the future is an alliance which provides deterrence and protection for all allies against any threat."

FEARS OF A NEW ARMS RACE

Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said the planned deployment of U.S. military equipment in eastern Europe, including his country, was a key step to ensure the region's defensibility against growing Russian military capabilities.

"We have no other possibilities. If we did nothing, we would be provoking Russia for aggression, like it was in... Ukraine," Olekas told Reuters.

Russian officials warned on Monday that Moscow would retaliate if the United States carried out its plan to store heavy military equipment in eastern Europe, including in the Baltic states that were once in the Soviet Union.

"The feeling is that our colleagues from NATO countries are pushing us into an arms race," RIA news agency quoted Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying during "Army 2015", a fair at which arms and other military equipment are on show.

Putin has said Moscow will not be drawn into a new arms race although Russia is modernizing its armed forces. Putin said in his speech that 70 percent of the military equipment in use would by 2020 be the most up-to-date and top-quality.

Putin had said last year that Russia would add more than 50 intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2015.

Military expert Ivan Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Trends Studies, said Russia is now replacing outdated ICBMs that had been serviced and co-produced by Ukraine, also a former Soviet republic.

No such cooperation is taking place anymore and Moscow is putting in place other types of ICBMs it produces on its own.

The fair that opened on Tuesday to exhibit more than 330 units of Russian arms and military equipment was the latest example of Moscow showcasing its modernized armed forces.

But lavish military spending is burdening Russia's national budget at a time when the economy is sliding towards recession, hammered by low oil prices and Western sanctions.

The Kremlin portrays spending on the Russian arms sector as a driver of economic growth, but Putin's critics say it is excessive and comes at the expense of social needs.

(This story has been refiled to correct Stoltenberg quote, paragraph 12)

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