Putin goes live on TV phone-in to escalate nuclear war of words · President tells of new generation of weapons · 'Grandiose' plan to combat US missile shield Luke Harding in Moscow Friday October 19, 2007 The Guardian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russia was developing a new generation of nuclear weapons as part of a "big, grandiose" plan to boost the country's defences against the US. Speaking during his annual live question-and-answer session, Mr Putin said Russia was upgrading its nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and strategic bombers. It was also developing "completely new strategic [nuclear] complexes", he said. "Our plans are not simply considerable, but huge. At the same time they are absolutely realistic. I have no doubts we will accomplish them," Mr Putin said, during a three-hour phone-in programme shown across Russia on state-run TV. Mr Putin said Russia would defend itself if the US goes ahead with its plan to install elements of its missile shield in central Europe. "I can assure you that such steps are being prepared and we will take them," he said. His comments follow unsuccessful talks last week with the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates. Mr Putin began their meeting in Moscow by signalling that Russia might dump the intermediate-range nuclear missiles treaty. Mr Putin fielded 68 questions yesterday from ordinary Russians living in nine time zones across the world's biggest country. Beginning in Vladivostok, where it was dark, he discussed the price of milk, IVF treatment, and the fate of Russia's provincial towns. One caller was so stunned to speak directly to the president she forgot her question. "Is it you?" she said. "Yes," Mr Putin said. "Is it really you?" she asked. "Yes," he repeated. "Thank you very much for everything, Vladimir Vladimirovich," she gasped. She then hung up. Mr Putin also congratulated Russia's football team for its 2-1 win against England in Moscow on Wednesday. Mr Putin said he had been too busy to watch the game in person but had followed Russia's second-half comeback on TV. Nobody appeared to ask about Mr Putin's personal intentions. Mr Putin is obliged to step down as president next year. He has hinted he may carry on running the country as prime minister. He confirmed merely: "In 2008, in the Kremlin there will be a different person." Analysts said Mr Putin's latest remarks were designed to reassure his public that Russia still had an effective nuclear deterrent. But they were also a message to Washington: that its new and costly missile shield was effectively useless against the latest Russian technology. Mr Putin did not spell out details of his new weapons, which he hinted at in 2004. They are believed to be equipped with manoeuvrable warheads, which detach from the main missile during the final stage of descent. Predictably, Mr Putin took several swipes at US foreign policy. The US-led invasion of Iraq had been a failure, he said, as was its strategy of confrontation with Iran over its alleged nuclear programme. Mr Putin, who met Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Tuesday in Tehran, declared: "Direct dialogue with the leaders of states ... is the shortest path to success, rather than a policy of threats, sanctions, and a resolution to use force." Yesterday's annual Q&A session is Mr Putin's sixth since becoming president in 2000. More than a million people sent questions by email, text or phone - all of them screened by the Kremlin. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta published its own list of questions, which the president failed to answer. It wanted to know who had killed its star columnist Anna Politkovskaya. It also asked about corruption, the Beslan massacre, and why politicians from the pro-presidential United Russia party kept appearing on state TV.