Putin warns again that Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty is threatened

Russian President Vladimir Putin is interviewed by Rossiya Segodnya International Media Group Director General Dmitry Kiselev, back to a camera, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is interviewed by Rossiya Segodnya International Media Group Director General Dmitry Kiselev, back to a camera, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty or independence is threatened, issuing another blunt warning to the West just days before an election in which he’s all but certain to secure another six-year term.

The Russian leader has repeatedly talked about his readiness to use nuclear weapons since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The most recent such threat came in his state-of-the-nation address last month, when he warned the West that deepening its involvement in the fighting in Ukraine would risk a nuclear war.

Asked in an interview with Russian state television released early Wednesday if he has ever considered using battlefield nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Putin responded that there has been no need for that. He also noted that he doesn’t think that the world is heading for a nuclear war, describing U.S. President Joe Biden as a veteran politician who fully understands the possible dangers of escalation.

When asked for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ reaction to Putin’s remarks, spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said that “all rhetoric that could lead to miscalculation or escalation with obvious catastrophic consequences for the world must be avoided.”

Putin’s comments appeared to be a message to the West that he’s prepared to use all means to protect his gains in Ukraine. He said that in line with the country’s security doctrine, Moscow is ready to use nuclear weapons in case of a threat to “the existence of the Russian state, our sovereignty and independence.”

“All that is written in our strategy, we haven’t changed it,” he said.

In an apparent reference to NATO allies that support Kyiv, he also declared that “the nations that say they have no red lines regarding Russia should realize that Russia won’t have any red lines regarding them either.”

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, recently lamented that the West too often constrains itself with self-imposed “red lines” regarding Russia. He also welcomed a comment by French President Emmanuel Macron that the possibility of Western troops being sent to Ukraine couldn’t be ruled out.

Putin noted the statements from Biden and his administration that the U.S. wasn’t going to send its troops to Ukraine. He charged that if the U.S. acts otherwise, Moscow would see the American troops as invaders and act accordingly. He claimed that even if some NATO allies deploy troops to Ukraine, it won’t change the course of the war.

“If it turns to official foreign military contingents, I’m sure it will not change the situation on the battlefield … just as the weapons supplies haven’t changed anything,” he said.

In the wake of recent battlefield gains, Putin argued that Ukraine and its Western allies will eventually have to accept a deal to end the war on Russian terms.

“It shouldn’t be a break for the enemy to rearm, but a serious talk involving the guarantees of security for the Russian Federation,” he said.

Putin said that a recent spike in Ukrainian drone attacks deep inside Russia is part of efforts to derail the country’s three-day presidential election, which starts Friday and which he’s set to win by a landslide, given his near total crackdown on dissent and tight control over Russia’s political system.

Russian authorities reported another major attack by Ukrainian drones early Wednesday. The Defense Ministry said air defenses downed 58 drones over six regions. One of the drones hit an oil refinery in the Ryazan region, injuring at least two people and sparking a fire. Another was downed as it was approaching a refinery near St. Petersburg.

Along with drone attacks on facilities deep inside Russian territory, Ukrainian forces have launched a series of successful attacks on Russia’s naval and air assets in the Black Sea region with sea drones and missiles. The strikes have crippled Moscow’s naval capability and forced it to limit its operations in the Black Sea.

Earlier this week, Russian media reported that the Russian navy chief, Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov, was fired and replaced with Northern Fleet commander, Alexander Moiseyev. The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry haven’t yet confirmed the reshuffle, which Russian commentators linked to the latest Black Sea Fleet’s mishaps.

Ukraine, meanwhile, reported more Russian attacks early Wednesday.

A Russian strike killed two people and wounded another five in the town of Myrnohrad in the eastern region of Donetsk, about 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) from the front line, according to Gov. Vadym Filashkin. Local rescuers managed to pull a 13-year-old girl out of the rubble of an apartment building.

A five-story building in the northern city of Sumy was struck by a drone launched from Russia overnight, killing two people and wounding eight, according to the regional administration.

In Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown, the death toll from a Russian missile attack the previous night rose to five, Gov. Serhii Lysak said. He said that 43 people were wounded in Kryvyi Rih, including 12 children, the youngest a 2-month-old infant.

“Every day our cities and villages suffer similar attacks. Every day Ukraine loses people because of Russian evil,” Zelenskyy said.

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