Putin warns West of nuclear war risk

Putin warns West of nuclear war risk

Russian leader says consequences will be catastrophic if NATO ground troops sent to Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin warned Western countries on Thursday that there was a genuine risk of nuclear war if they sent their own troops to fight in Ukraine, and he said Moscow had the weapons to strike targets in the West.

Addressing parliament and other members of the country’s elite, Putin, 71, repeated his accusation that the West is bent on weakening Russia, and he suggested Western leaders did not understand how dangerous their meddling could be in what he cast as Russia’s own internal affairs.

He prefaced his warning with a specific reference to an idea, floated by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, of European NATO members sending ground troops to Ukraine — a suggestion that was quickly rejected by the United States, Germany, Britain and others.

“(Western nations) must realise that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory. All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilisation. Don’t they get that?” said Putin.

Putin, who was speaking ahead of a March 15-17 presidential election in which he is certain to be re-elected for another six-year term, lauded what he said was Russia’s vastly modernised nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world.

The war in Ukraine has triggered the worst crisis in Moscow’s relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Putin has previously warned of the dangers of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Visibly angry, Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for more than two decades suggested Western politicians recall the fate of those, like Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler and France’s Napoleon Bonaparte who unsuccessfully invaded his country in the past.

“But now the consequences will be far more tragic,” said Putin. “They think it (war) is a cartoon,” he said.

“We understand that the West is trying to drag us into an arms race,” he said. “They are trying to wear us down, to repeat the trick they succeeded (in pulling off) with the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

“Therefore, our task is to develop the defence-industrial complex in such a way as to increase the scientific, technological and industrial potential of the country.

“We need to distribute resources as rationally as possible and build an efficient economy of the armed forces, to achieve the maximum for every rouble of defence expenditure.”

Putin also claimed that Russia’s economy would soon be among the world’s four largest in terms of purchasing power parity.

Boasting vast natural resources, Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) rebounded sharply last year from a slump in 2022, but the growth relies heavily on state-funded arms and ammunition production for the war in Ukraine, masking problems that are hampering an improvement in Russians’ living standards.

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