Rafaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, made his remarks days after Mr Putin claimed tests on new hypersonic weapons which would dramatically cut the time needed to launch attacks on long-distance targets had been a “complete success”. During a visit to Russia’s National Defence Management Centre, he added: “It’s a big moment in the life of the armed forces and in the life of the country. Russia has obtained a new type of strategic weapon.”
He said: “The test of a new hypersonic missile, which Mr Putin boasts in “invulnerable” to western defences, heralds a world that we thought we had consigned to history.”
Mr Pantucci stressed despite growing unease at apparently deteriorating relations between east and west, “we are still nowhere near the fearsome heights of the Cold War”.
He pointed out US defence spending was a long way below the roughly 10 percent it was forking out at the heigh of the Cold War era.
Similarly Moscow was spending well below the level which eventually became unsustainable in the 1980s, with the resultant collapse of the Soviet Union.
Writing in The Sunday Times, he said: “Moscow feels compelled to demonstrate a sense of global confrontation to enhance national power and to explain at home the imposition of economic sanctions and the vilification of Russia in the international media.”
He also referred to what he described as the “growing sense of confrontation” in the world, including the rise of non-state terrorist organisation such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, while China has become increasingly assertive on the world stage.
He added: “Moscow sees the current confused order as a prime environment in which to asset its meddlesome influence abroad and build a narrative at home of international power and importance.”
Mr Pantucci also referred to a “distinct, if fractured” axis coming together between Russia, China and Iran.
He stressed that all of them, despite their differences, regarded the West “an adversary they need to worry about”.
He said: “We are able to respond in only a piecemeal fashion and struggle to maintain a unified line for long.
“Previously the clarity of a structured order between the Soviet and western blocs defined who the enemy was and what we would need to do in response to the weapons they were developing.”
In contrast, he said the nature of the the modern world meant countries were tied to their adversaries just as much as they were “locked into the possibility of preparing ourselves for the possibility of confronting them”.
He added: “Travel to Beijing, Moscow or Tehran and you hear views we would dismiss as conspiracy theories being shared among some of the most sophisticated thinkers as mainstream perspectives.
“Doubtless they observe the same phenomenon when they visit us.
“The biggest danger we face is not large-scale military conflict fuelled by hypersonic weapons.
“It is a miscalculation of one another’s aims and intentions that precipitates confrontations and spirals out of control into conflict.”