Putin tells West he is ready to use nukes, but doesn’t think they will be needed

In latest bellicose statement ahead of Russian election, president notes his US counterpart Biden understands the risks of escalation

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking during an interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Media Group in Moscow, Russia, March 12, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking during an interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Media Group in Moscow, Russia, March 12, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons if there is a threat to its statehood, sovereignty, or independence, voicing hope that the US would refrain from actions that could trigger a nuclear conflict.

Putin’s statement was another blunt warning to the West ahead of a presidential vote this week in which he’s all but certain to win another six-year term.

In an interview with Russian state television released early Wednesday, Putin described US President Joe Biden as a veteran politician who fully understands the possible dangers of escalation and said that he doesn’t think that the world is heading to a nuclear war.

“[In the US] there are enough specialists in the field of Russian-American relations and in the field of strategic restraint,” said Putin, the ultimate decision-maker in the world’s biggest nuclear power.

“Therefore, I don’t think that here everything is rushing to it [nuclear confrontation], but we are ready for this,” he said.

At the same time, Putin emphasized that Russia’s nuclear forces are in full readiness and “from the military-technical viewpoint, we’re prepared.”

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on November 5, 2023, the Emperor Alexander III nuclear submarine of the Russia navy test-fires a Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile from the White Sea. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Putin said that Russia’s nuclear triad — weapons delivered by land, sea, and air — was “much more” advanced and modern than those in the United States.

“Our triad, the nuclear triad, is more modern than any other triad. Only we and the Americans actually have such triads. And we have advanced much more here,” he said.

Putin 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.”

The Russian leader has repeatedly talked about his readiness to use nuclear weapons since launching the invasion of Ukraine in February 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 the interview if he has ever considered using battlefield nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Putin responded that there has been no need for that.

He also voiced confidence that Moscow will achieve its goals in Ukraine and issued a blunt warning to Western allies, declaring 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.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to TV host and Director General of Rossiya Segodnya (RIA Novosti) news agency Dmitry Kiselyov at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 12, 2024. (Gavriil GRIGOROV / POOL / AFP)

Putin held the door open for talks but emphasized that Russia would hold onto its gains and would seek firm guarantees from the West.

“Russia is ready for negotiations on Ukraine, but they should be based on reality – and not on cravings after the use of psychotropic drugs,” Putin said.

“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 is set to win by a landslide, relying on the tight control over Russia’s political scene he has established during his 24-year rule.

In a US election year, the West is grappling with how to support Kyiv against Russia, which now controls almost one-fifth of Ukrainian territory and is rearming much faster than the West and Ukraine.

Washington says it has seen no major changes to Russia’s nuclear posture but Putin’s public nuclear warnings — which break with the extreme caution of the Soviet leadership over such remarks — have sown concern in Washington.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service on March 13, 2024, emergency services personnel work at an apartment building destroyed by a Russian attack in Sumy, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

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 drone was downed as it was approaching a refinery near St. Petersburg.

Ukraine, meanwhile, reported more Russian attacks early Wednesday.

A Russian strike killed two people and injured 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 that was hit by a Russian missile.

A five-story building in the northern city of Sumy was struck by a drone launched from Russia overnight and 10 people were rescued from the rubble, including eight who sustained injuries, according to the regional administration.

In Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, the death toll from a Russian missile attack the previous night rose to four, said Gov. Serhii Lysak. He said that 43 people were wounded in Kryvyi Rih, including 12 children, including two toddlers.

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

Kyiv says it is defending itself against an imperial-style war of conquest designed to erase its national identity. Russia says the areas it controls in Ukraine are now Russia.

Reuters reported last month that Putin’s suggestion of a ceasefire in Ukraine to freeze the war was rejected by the US after contacts between intermediaries.

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