Russia expert Dr Leonid Petrov said the “silent animosity” between the US and Russia had now transformed into an “arms race in earnest” which will play out in three main areas, as an “aerial arms race”, “space arms race” and “underwater arms race”.
“I think the arrival of President Trump in the White House and the new term of Putin will place us in the next four years, in an environment of high unpredictability and open conflict between the two superpowers, where the two leaders are more concerned about their own image than the welfare of their people and the security of the world,” Dr Petrov told news.com.au.
If the technological one-upmanship did develop into a military conflict, Dr Petrov said Australia could become “collateral damage”.
“Australia plays a vital role in American anti-missile defence system networks, with many radars placed in northern Australia that participate in signals detection and also the surveillance of Russian and Chinese missile installations,” Dr Petrov said.
“So it makes sense for an enemy to destroy anti-missile systems like those situated in Australia so Australia would be collateral damage between the US and its enemies.”
If Russia’s new arsenal did prove to be authentic, Dr Petrov said it should be concerning to countries around the world.
“Every country of every continent is and would be vulnerable to these new arms if the declarations are genuine,” he said.
“Australia is a large and easy target for Russian missiles, particularly if Australia continues to follow US strategic alliance and rhetoric.
“Australia has to be very careful as it cannot really defend itself from the state-of-the-art Russian aerial and naval technology announced.”
However, there’s scepticism among experts that the weapons are operational and Dr Petrov said he thought Mr Putin’s display yesterday was more of a “wish list” than reality.
He said the announcement was designed to impress the public in Russia, ahead of an election on March 18.
“Putin needs to project confidence within the Russian population that what he is doing is right and build a sense of security among Russian people who have been suffering economic disadvantage since the fall in oil prices and sanctions after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“The most effective way to do this is to announce the newest achievement — some mysterious achievements in nuclear weapons and ballistics — which no one can verify anyway.”
But Dr Petrov said the address was also designed to intimidate the world community and was the latest step in a new Cold War that he believes started in 2014 when Russia took over the Crimean peninsula.
He said Russia has been upset with the US for many years, claiming America did not honour promises made at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.
“Russia has said it doesn’t have any option but to rearm itself and get ready for potential conflict,” he said.
Russia has also been suspicious of anti-missile systems being installed in Europe and the weapons unveiled on Thursday were aimed at getting around them.
Dr Petrov said it was now clear that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the US and Russia, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, had become defunct.
“Both the US and Russia accuse each other of undermining the START agreement, I don’t know who is right but START is now defunct, the agreement is gone, there are no safety checks, no safeguards in either the reduction of nuclear and ballistic armed missiles or programs,” he said.
“The arms race is going on, it’s just a way of life and is generally bad news for the world.
“The world is in danger, not only from intentional war (which is not very likely) but also accidental mistake, misjudgment or from sophisticated weapons falling into the hands of rogue regimes or terrorists where no control can be exercised over usage or intention.”
In response to Mr Putin’s address, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said he had confirmed what the US government had known for a long time but Russia had denied.
“Russia has been developing destabilising weapons systems for more than a decade in direct violation of its treaty obligations,” Ms Nauert said.
Specifically, she said that Moscow had proved itself in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), through its development of ground-launched cruise missiles.
The United States has long accused Russia of breaching the INF treaty and, while it is modernising its own nuclear arsenal, said it remained in compliance with the terms of the Cold War accord.
But Mr Putin emphasised the new weapons were designed in full compliance with the US-Russian arms control agreements, adding that Russian military experts and diplomats would be ready to discuss new weapons systems with their US counterparts.
“We aren’t threatening anyone, we aren’t going to attack anyone, we aren’t going to take anything from anyone,” he said. “The growing Russian military power will guarantee global peace.”
America has argued NATO’S US-led missile defence system wasn’t aimed at Russia but was instead designed to defend against Iran, North Korea and other rogue threats.
These reassurances have been shrugged off by Mr Putin and he said Russia’s new weapons would make the system “useless”.
“I want to tell all those who have fuelled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful restrictions and sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: All what you wanted to impede with your policies has now happened,” he said. “You have failed to contain Russia.”