``If the US nuclear potential extends across the European territory and threatens Russia, we will be obliged to take countermeasures,'' Putin told journalists from G-8 nations on Sunday, days ahead of Wednesday's G8 summit in Germany. ``Of course, we'll have to select new targets in Europe.''
"It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the US is located in Europe and will be threatening us, we will have to respond. This system of missile defence on one side and the absence of this system on the other . . . increases the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict," he was quoted as saying.
Russia has been increasingly alermed over US plans to install a missile defence shield over Eastern Europe, which Washington insists is aimed to counter a possible missile strike by Iran.
Putin had earlier warned that Moscow might suspend its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty if talks with NATO countries on its implementation showed no progress. NATO members have been demanding that Russia first withdraw from Soviet-era bases in Georgia and Moldova as per earlier agreements before ratifying a fresh agreement.
Calling for an emergency CFE meeting in Vienna on June 12-15 to discuss the acceptance of the US missile shield by certain EU states, the Russian leader said: "We are fully observing the provisions of the (CFE) treaty and have pulled out all heavy weaponry from the European part of Russia. We have reduced our armed forces by 300,000 personnel in the past few years, but what about our partners?"
"They are inundating Eastern Europe with new weapons - a new base in Bulgaria, another base in Romania, a (missile interceptor) site in Poland , a radar in the Czech Republic. What are we supposed to do? We cannot just observe all this and continue to keep our obligations under the treaty."
"There is a clear desire by some international players to dictate their will to everyone without adhering to international law," he added. "International law has been replaced by political reasons. In our opinion it is nothing different from diktat, nothing different from imperialism ," he was quoted as saying by the Russian official news agency Pravda.
Noting that the US unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, paving the way to the deployment of its missile shield in Europe, he warned that Russia might also withdraw from a treaty with the US to cut stocks of intermediate range missiles, 'because so many other countries were racing to develop these weapons. '
Admitting that this would start a new arms race, he said that Russia was not responsible for starting it.
"We are not the initiators of this new round of the arms race ," Putin told a joint Kremlin news conference.
However, "There is no need to fear Russia's actions, they are not aggressive... They are aimed at maintaining balance in the world order, and are extremely important for maintaining peace and security globally," he said.