Putin warns West of nuclear war risk

Says his soldiers advancing in Ukraine and warns of ‘tragic consequences’ for any country that dared to send troops to Kyiv

MOSCOW  -  President Vladi­mir Putin warned Thursday of a “real” risk of nu­clear war if the West escalates the conflict in Ukraine, offering a defiant and emboldened stance in his an­nual speech to Russians.

Speaking in Moscow, Putin said his soldiers were advanc­ing in Ukraine and warned the West of “tragic consequences” for any country that dared to send troops to Kyiv.

“They have announced the possibility of sending West­ern military contingents to Ukraine... The consequences for possible interventionists will be much more tragic,” he said in his address to the nation.

“They should eventually re­alise that we also have weap­ons that can hit targets on their territory. Everything that the West comes up with creates the real threat of a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, and thus the destruction of civilisa­tion,” said Putin. His comments appeared to be a response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal earlier this week to rule out sending troops to Ukraine -- a stance that drew swift rejection from other lead­ers in Europe.

Nevertheless, the debate has struck a nerve in Moscow, which has long seen its conflict with Ukraine as part of a wider “hy­brid war” being waged against it by NATO. Western leaders have repeatedly criticised Putin for what they see as his reckless use of nuclear rhetoric.

After pulling Russia out of arms control treaties with the United States and previously warning he was “not bluffing” when he said he was ready to use nuclear weapons, Putin had appeared in recent months to dial down his nuclear threats. 

But the fresh warning comes with the Kremlin buoyed by re­cent gains on the battlefield in Ukraine, but also an economy that has largely defied sanctions and ahead of an election certain to extend Putin’s term in the Kremlin until 2030. The current state of affairs marks a sharp reversal in fortunes for Moscow over the last 12 months.

Last year at this time, Russian troops were reeling from Ukrai­nian counteroffensives that pushed them back in northeast­ern and southern Ukraine.

But after a Ukrainian cam­paign in the summer of 2023 failed to bring similar results, Kyiv is back on the defensive.

The initially strong West­ern support for Ukraine also appears to be fraying, with a $60-billion US aid package stalled in Congress. Outgun­ning Ukrainian forces on the battlefield, Putin’s troops seized the eastern stronghold of Avdiivka and are attempt­ing to build on their advances. Putin on Thursday pointed to recent successes.

“The combat capacity of our armed forces has increased many times over,” he said.

“They are advancing confi­dently in a number of areas,” he added, without providing de­tails. Flanked by Russian trico­lour flags and standing alone on stage at the Gostiny Dvor Palace near Moscow’s Red Square, the Russian leader reeled off his country’s arsenal of advanced weapons, including the Zircon and Kinzhal supersonic missiles.

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