March 5, 2018 / 7:20 PM / 15 days ago

West is responding to Putin's 'more assertive Russia': NATO chief

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of new nuclear weapons is part of a resurgent Russian assertiveness that the West is already responding to, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, adding that he hoped to avoid an arms race.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a conference of the Russian transport workers' union in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

Putin unveiled an array of new nuclear weapons - that he said were either ready or in development - last Thursday, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and not be intercepted.

“We are of course concerned,” Stoltenberg said during a visit to Iraq. “Because NATO does not want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race.”

Putin’s speech, weeks before an election he is expected to win, was in line with a pattern of behaviour whereby Russia has developed new weapons and used military force on neighbouring Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.

“This pattern which we have seen over some years is part of why NATO now is adapting and implementing the strongest reinforcement to our collective defence since the Cold War,” he said.

“We’re not mirroring what Russia does - missile for missile, weapon for weapon - but we are responding because we see a more assertive Russia.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrives at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Stoltenberg renewed his call for Russia to abide by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that the United States said Putin had breached by his announcement last week.

Stoltenberg visited a NATO training facility in Iraq and met Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, weeks after NATO defence ministers agreed on a bigger “train-and-advise” mission in a country where it has been part of the coalition fighting Islamic State.

“All 29 allies want NATO to play a bigger role in fighting terrorism, because terrorism affects all of us. It’s been a clear message from the Trump administration but also from the other allies,” Stoltenberg said.

“This is about helping Iraq but also about helping ourselves.”

As combat operations wind down after three years of war against Islamic State, the NATO mission that is due to start in July will focus on bomb disposal, military medicine and reforming the security institutions, including fighting corruption.

Stoltenberg said he discussed the Iraqi parliament’s demand that the government set a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

“We are here based on a request from Abadi,” he said.

Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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