Russia’s deputy prime minister on Thursday threatened to use nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies should they attack Moscow, even if they use conventional weapons.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Dmitry Rogozin threatened the nuclear option while speaking before Russian lawmakers about a new U.S.-developed defense system that can strike around the world "within minutes," according to multiple Russian language news reports.
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Rogozin appeared to be reacting to U.S. plans to deploy the Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) system, a space-controlled missile system capable of firing non-nuclear weapons at a global target in a manner of minutes.
"One can experiment as long as one wishes by deploying non-nuclear warheads on strategic missile carriers," Rogozin said according to Russian newspapers, including the state-run outlet RT. "But one should keep in mind that if there is an attack against us, we will certainly resort to using nuclear weapons in certain situations to defend our territory and state interests."
Russian military doctrine dictates that nuclear weapons can be used against those who strike first with conventional arms, according to Rogozin.
"We have never diminished the importance of nuclear weapons—the weapon of requital—as the great balancer of chances," Rogozin was quoted as saying.
Rogozin’s comments came after the country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was in Iran for a series of high-level meetings about ways in which the two nations can boost their ties.
Russia experts said that Rogozin’s nuclear threats demonstrate an increasing hostility towards the United States as Moscow attempts to grow closer with Tehran.
"The timing of Rogozin's comment is certainly striking," said Anna Borshchevskaya, a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy.
"Lavrov just returned from a trip to Iran, which reaffirmed its friendship with Russia," Borshchevskaya said. "Rogozin in this context comes across not only as stepping up anti-Western rhetoric but as a warning about a strike against Iran, Russia's ally."
Russia has expressed opposition to U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Europe and Rogozin said that Russia is currently developing plans to counter the CPGS system.
Russian defense think tanks have "already looked at over a thousand proposed ideas and plan to work on 60 projects, eight of which are top priority," Rogozin said according to RT.
The CPGS is meant to counter threats from Russia and China.
"The Pentagon has not made any doctrinal decisions as far as I can tell about what CPGS will be used for," James Acton, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment's nuclear policy program, said in September when he released a report focused on the CPGS. "Two of the possible missions are very China focused."
"China’s nuclear forces are much smaller than Russia’s nuclear forces," Acton said at the time. "And the Chinese are a hell of a lot more serious about developing this technology than the Russians are."
Russia’s Lavrov was in Tehran on Wednesday to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders. They reportedly discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its role in the Syrian crisis, and ways to expand trade.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Thursday that "every part of Iran can fire missiles at enemy targets."