Putin renews nuclear threats against West
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Putin renews nuclear threats against West

Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews honour guards of the presidential regiment following his inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday. (Photo: Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews honour guards of the presidential regiment following his inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday. (Photo: Reuters)

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West against threatening Russia as he pursues his invasion of Ukraine and revived his nuclear saber-rattling at the annual military parade on Moscow’s Red Square marking the victory in World War II.

"We will not let anyone threaten us. Our strategic forces are always on combat alert," Putin, 71, who was sworn in this week for his fifth term as president after a tightly orchestrated re-election in March, said Thursday at the parade.

Russia has been ratcheting up threats against the United States and its allies as Ukraine has been struggling on the battlefield after months of delay in new military aid that left it critically short of ammunition.

Putin earlier this week ordered his military to conduct combat drills involving tactical nuclear weapons in response to what Russia called "provocative" Western statements. France has raised the idea of sending ground troops to Ukraine and the United Kingdom (UK) said it would allow Kyiv’s forces to strike Russia with British weapons. The US approval of US$61 billion in new aid last month has helped to bolster morale in Kyiv, as supplies of munitions and arms are starting to flow again.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that French troops would “inevitably become a target” for Russia’s army if they are deployed to Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned both the UK and French ambassadors, and warned the UK envoy that Russia reserved the right to strike British facilities if Ukraine used its weapons to attack Russia.

With sweeping US and European Union (EU) sanctions against Russia and tens of billions of dollars in economic and military assistance for Ukraine, the worst conflict in Europe since World War II has triggered a deepening standoff between Moscow and the West. Helped by buoyant energy sales, Russia has managed to weather the impact of sanctions by redirecting trade to economies such as China and India and ploughing its financial reserves into supporting military production and social spending.

Russia controls almost 20% of Ukrainian territory. Still, Putin is advancing cautiously, wary of ordering another unpopular mobilization after the call-up of 300,000 Russians in September 2022 provoked panic and an exodus from the country.

Since he ordered the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Putin has sought to stoke patriotic feeling to rally the nation around the war. That has included comparing the conflict to the Soviet Union’s triumph in what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, in which 27 million Soviet citizens died, while ignoring the fact that Russia is the aggressor this time.

This year’s display on Red Square featured 9,000 troops and weaponry including tanks, air-defence systems, and nuclear-missile launchers. Onlookers were bundled in coats amid unseasonably cold temperatures, and patches of snow could be seen in places on the ground in the broadcast.

In a sign of Putin's isolation, very few foreign leaders joined the Russian leader for the event. Apart from the presidents of neighbouring Belarus and four central Asian nations, only the leaders of Cuba, Guinea Bissau and Laos made the trip to attend the parade.

In 2005, when Russia marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, more than 50 foreign leaders attended, including US President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Many leaders have opted to stay away since Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

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