By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will counter NATO's U.S.-led missile defense program by deploying new strike weapons capable of piercing the shield, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.
Putin told defense officials that by developing defenses against ballistic missiles Washington aims to "neutralize" Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent and gain a "decisive military superiority."
He said that Moscow will respond by developing "strike systems capable of penetrating any missile defenses."
"Over the past three years, companies of the military-industrial complex have created and successfully tested a number of prospective weapons systems that are capable of performing combat missions in a layered missile defense system. Such systems have already begun to enter the military this year. And now we are talking about development of new types of weapons," Putin said.
His statement comes amid a severe strain in Russia's relations with the U.S. and its NATO allies, which have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine.
For many years, the Kremlin has protested the U.S.-led missile shield, voicing concern that it could eventually become capable of intercepting Russia's nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, thus eroding the strength of the nation's nuclear deterrent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, shakes hands with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a meet …
Washington, in turn, has argued that the shield was aimed to fend off missile threats from nations such as Iran and North Korea and wouldn't be capable of dealing with the massive Russian nuclear arsenal.
Putin argued Tuesday that the U.S. has kept working on the missile shield despite Iran's deal with six world powers that has curbed its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
"So, references to the Iranian and the North Korean nuclear missile threat just have served to cover up the true plans, and their true task is to neutralize nuclear potential of other nuclear powers, ... Russia in particular," Putin said. "Regrettably, our concerns and cooperation proposals haven't been taken into account."
Putin added that in the future Russia may also work on the development of its own missile defense systems, but will now focus primarily on commissioning new strike weapons.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia aims to spend less on its missile-defense system than the United States has done.
"The Russian president has repeatedly said that we are not going to follow the United States' lead and spend stratospheric amounts on a missile-defense system," he told journalists. "The president has been saying the options we choose are much lower in cost but no less, and maybe even more, efficient."