Nuclear arsenal 'key to global balance'
Moscow - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday said that Russia had a global obligation to retain a strong nuclear arsenal as a balance against US power and prevent major conflicts from breaking out.
Putin's comments came as he toured a nuclear research centre in the once-secret city of Sarov ahead of a March 4 presidential election in which he is hoping to secure a return to the Kremlin.
Putin chaired a special security meeting with experts in which he lashed out at US plans to deploy a missile defence shield in Europe that Russia fears might one day make its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal ineffective.
He warned the United States that Russia "does not intend to disarm in a unilateral manner" and warned the military was developing new and more powerful nuclear arms.
"This is not only our national objective, but also an obligation before all humanity - to keep a balance of strategic forces and their capabilities," news agencies quoted Putin as saying.
"This is very important. After World War II, this balance ensured the absence of global conflicts.
"Unfortunately, there are many regional conflicts and their number is only growing. But the balance of strategic forces will help avoid major conflicts."
Putin often clashed with the United States while president between 2000 and 2008 and has remained a key decision-maker as premier, voicing strong criticism of the Nato-led air campaign in Libya.
Russia now faces both Western and Arab world condemnation for its refusal to blame Syrian President Bashar Assad for an 11-month crackdown on street protests that the opposition says has claimed more than 7 600 lives.
The Russian stongman has accused Western powers of acting "like a bull in a china shop" in Syria and other recent regional conflicts.
Putin this week promised to spend 23 trillion rubles ($788bn) by 2020 on a vast new military procurement programme that would supply Russia with a new stock of nuclear arms.