​World no closer to Cold War-style nuclear standoff, Putin tells global media chiefs

More than five thousand air, sea and ground troops take part in a multinational NATO maritime exercise BALTOPS in the Baltic Sea to demonstrate the resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region near Ustka, Poland June 17, 2015 (Reuters / Agencja Gazetai)
Russia’s deployment of 40 additional nuclear ballistic missiles in response to the US military buildup in Europe doesn’t mean the world is at greater risk of a nuclear war, President Vladimir Putin told the heads of global news agencies.

The Russian head of state held a late-night meeting with top executives from 12 foreign news agencies on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Most of the event was held behind closed doors and not recorded.

The extra deployment is necessary to protect Russia and is a response to a growing threat from the West, Putin explained as EFE, a Spanish news agency, later quoted him as saying. Pentagon is reportedly considering placing additional American heavy weapons, including artillery, in Europe. Washington says it is needed to protect its NATO allies from an aggressive Russia.

READ MORE: ‘Most aggressive since Cold War’: Russia may beef up border if US arms stationed in E. Europe

“Russia is not an aggressor and does not favor increasing the level of tension… but is obliged to respond to Western actions targeting Moscow,” EFE cited Putin as saying, without using direct quotes. The meeting was apparently held under so-called Chatham House rules, where participants’ comments cannot be reported directly without their express permission.

“The increase in belligerent rhetoric between Russia and the US does not mean the world is at greater risk of nuclear confrontation,” the agency added, summarizing the Russian leader’s response.

Putin also commented on the seizures of Russian state property in European countries, intended to enforce a Hague court ruling to pay billions of dollars in damages to shareholders of the now-defunct oil giant Yukos. The Russian president said Russia cannot fail to react to the asset seizures, but would not elaborate, saying it was up to lawyers to come up with a solution.

He added that the arbitration court’s decision to order Russia to pay $50 billion in compensation is based on the European Energy Charter, which Russia has not ratified. It makes the decision unlawful, because the court was acting beyond its jurisdiction, Putin said, according to EFE.

READ MORE: Russia will ‘protect its interests’ in European assets freeze – Putin

Commenting on the recent G7 summit in Bavaria and the statement by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Russia was not welcome in the group, Putin implied that Harper would act as instructed by Washington on this issue.

"I don't want to offend anyone, but if the United States says Russia should be returned to the G8, [Canada's] prime minister will change his opinion," Putin told The Canadian Press.

Putin reiterated his calls for Western powers to pressure the government of Ukraine to stick to its obligations under February’s Minsk peace agreement, a ceasefire deal between Kiev and rebels in the east of the country, which appears to have completely broken down in the past few weeks. The Russian president also said that the government of Petro Poroshenko must stop the economic blockade of the rebels in the east, implement constitutional reform and call local elections in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, AP reports.

Putin denied allegations by Kiev and its foreign backers that Moscow is sending troops and weapons to eastern Ukraine. He said that once Kiev stops trying to solve the crisis by force, and the Ukrainian government returns to seeking a political resolution to the crisis, the rebels would no longer need to take up weapons to defend themselves.

In response to other questions, Putin defended Russia’s right to host the FIFA 2018 World Cup, insisting that the country had won the right to host the event fairly. He said that people claiming that the selection was marred by corruption in FIFA should present the evidence of their allegations.