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Putin Shows Off New Weapons Capable Of Overcoming U.S. Defenses


Pretty frightening language coming from Russia this morning. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, was giving his state-of-the-nation speech, and he delivered a sharp warning to the United States. Essentially, the message was the days of ignoring Russia's strategic interests are over. And we've got the nuclear weapons to prove it. Putin spent almost half his two-hour speech showing videos of new rockets and torpedoes that would be capable of overcoming American defenses. NPR Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim was watching the speech. And, Lucian, what was Putin doing here?

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Well, it was quite interesting. I mean, the first half of the speech was very humdrum. It was very focused on domestic politics. And then the second half began with the usual grievances about the United States, that America is pursuing a missile defense shield which Russia opposes. And then he said, nobody wanted to talk to us. Now listen to us. And he got a lot of applause when he said that. And he moved to those videos. He showed numerous videos - mostly, I should say, were computer animations of all sorts of weapons that would be able to snake and weave their way around U.S. missile defenses.

GREENE: So should Americans be freaked out about this?

KIM: We haven't really heard such a clear challenge to the U.S. world order or U.S.-led world order since what people call Putin's Munich speech back in 2007. There he really laid a very harsh critique of President George W. Bush's foreign policy. Today's speech was very deliberate. It was very well-prepared. And Putin's point of view was, hey, guys, we're not a threat to anyone. And the fact that we're developing all these super weapons is actually a guarantee of peace because, in his words, he said, Russia will help keep the strategic balance in the world. But I guess for some people, it could sound quite alarming.

GREENE: Sounds like dual messages. I mean, we have all these weapons. We could destroy countries but trust us to secure the world. That's what really Russia is there for was his message. I guess, Lucian, and it's important to note the political context of this. There's a presidential election coming in - what? - less than three weeks now, right? Is there a connection to that? Is this Putin trying to send a message to voters in Russia?

KIM: Absolutely. I think of course there is a foreign policy element to this speech and to the audience. He wants to get across a very clear message to the rest of the world. But there is also a very big domestic audience. He's very concerned about the voter turnout, getting people motivated to go out. And what was interesting about the structure of his speech, he began with saying, yes, we have all these problems at home, but at the same time, we're defending ourselves from America. Our country is united. We're developing all sorts of new weapons that will - that are basically incomparable in the rest of the world. And this is really something that resonates among many Russians - among many of the people I've been speaking to in the last few weeks.

GREENE: That is NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow talking to us about Vladimir Putin's state-of-the-nation speech today which had some ominous warnings for the United States.

Lucian, thanks.

KIM: Good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.