Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said that nuclear tensions were rising, although he added that “we have not gone crazy” and Moscow would not be the first to deploy them in the Ukraine war.
Speaking more than nine months after his forces launched their military operation, Putin warned the conflict could be “lengthy.”
Russian forces have missed most of their key military goals since February, raising fears that the battlefield stalemate could see Russia resort to its nuclear arsenal to achieve a breakthrough.
Photo: EPA-EFE/SERGEI KARPUKHIN/KREMLIN POOL/SPUTNIK
“We have not gone crazy, we are aware of what nuclear weapons are,” Putin told a meeting of the Russian Human Rights Council. “We are not going to brandish them like a razor while running around the world.”
However, he acknowledged the growing tensions, saying that “such a threat is rising.”
“Why make a secret out of it here?” he asked.
However, he added that Russia would use a nuclear weapon only in response to an enemy strike.
“When we are struck, we strike back,” Putin said, adding that Moscow’s strategy was based on a “so-called retaliatory strike” policy.
“But if we aren’t the first to use it under any circumstances, then we will not be the second to use them either, because the possibilities of using them in the event of a nuclear strike against our territory are very limited,” he said.
His comments drew an immediate rebuke from the US.
“We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible,” US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said.
“It is dangerous and it goes against the spirit of that statement that has been at the core of the nuclear nonproliferation regime since the Cold War,” he said.
However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the risk of nuclear weapons being used in the Ukraine conflict has lessened thanks to international pressure heaped on Russia.
“One thing has changed for the time being: Russia has stopped threatening to use nuclear weapons,” Scholz said in an interview with Germany’s Funke media group, saying it was “in response to the international community marking a red line.”
“The priority now is for Russia to end the war immediately and withdraw its troops,” he added.
Despite deep divisions, it was important that dialogue with the Kremlin continued, Scholz said.
Meanwhile, shelling continued along the front in eastern Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying that strikes in the Donetsk region’s Kurakhove on Wednesday killed 10 civilians.
“The Russian army carried out a very brutal, absolutely deliberate strike at Kurakhove, precisely at civilians,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.
The shelling in Kurakhove comes a day after Ukrainian artillery strikes killed six people in the Donetsk region’s capital city of the same name, the Moscow-installed mayor said.
Moscow had expected the fighting to last a few weeks, but more than nine months after its forces entered Ukraine, Putin said the war could be a “lengthy process.”
He praised the announced annexation of four Ukrainian territories following September referendums held by Moscow proxies — which were denounced in the West as a sham.
“New territories appeared — well, this is still a significant result for Russia,” Putin said, referring to the Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
He also made special reference to Russia’s gaining control of all the land along the Azov Sea.
“The Azov Sea has become an internal sea to the Russian Federation, that’s a serious thing,” he said.
Despite its best efforts, Russian troops at no point have entirely controlled any of the annexed territories and were even forced out from the capital of Kherson after a months-long Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, Russia yesterday said that its troops were taking part in tactical exercises in Belarus, amid fears that Moscow is pressing its ally to get more involved in the Ukraine war.
Minsk earlier said it would not enter the war in Ukraine, but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has in the past ordered troops to deploy with Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, citing threats from Kyiv and the West.
In a statement, the Russia Ministry of Defense said: “Servicemen of the Western Military District ... continue intensive combat training on the ranges of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus.”
“Combat training events are held during both daylight and at night,” it said. “Servicemen are shooting from all types of small arms, as well as from mortars; they hone their skills in driving combat vehicles, pass psychological obstacle courses, study tactical medicine and other disciplines.”
Additional reporting by Reuters
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