Putin says West sending troops to Ukraine could lead to nuclear war

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Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West of the risk of nuclear war if they send their own troops to fight for Ukraine, saying Moscow had the weapons to strike Western targets.

In his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, Putin said claims that Russia intends to attack Europe are “nonsense” but warned that his country might strike Western countries with nuclear weapons.

Putin referenced an idea floated by French President Emmanuel Macron, who on Monday said the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine “cannot be ruled out.”

“Everything that they are coming up with now, with which they threaten the entire world – all this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, and therefore the destruction of civilization – don’t they understand this, or what?” Putin said.

“They must ultimately understand that we also have weapons – and they know about it, just as I now said – we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory,” he warned.

Putin has raised the nuclear specter on several occasions since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago.

Russia transferred tactical nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus last year, and CNN reported this month that Russia is attempting to develop a nuclear space weapon that could destroy satellites.

Support for Macron

While Macron’s suggestion of sending Western troops to Ukraine has since been rejected by several European leaders, Lithuania’s foreign minister told CNN on Thursday he “fully supports” Macron’s approach.

Gabrielius Landsbergis told CNN’s Isa Soares that “like-minded countries” could “lend a hand in Ukraine’s fight” by sending personnel to the country.

“Most likely we’re not talking about combat troops, but it could be training, it could be other thoughts of assistance to Ukraine,” he added.

“I have to stress here that we’re not talking about NATO action, not EU action, but it could be a group of countries, group of allies who would think the same way, who would be ready to assist Ukraine in that matter, in that way,” he told CNN.

Landsbergis said he saw “a number of signs, rhetorical, practical, military signs that Russia is not about to stop” with Ukraine.

“We hear that it is likely that they will be mobilizing an additional 400,000 troops and it’s not omitted that they will be placed on NATO’s border,” he added.

“It has to be very clear that Ukraine has to win if we don’t want this conflict to spread and spread also into NATO countries.”

Meanwhile, the US State Department suggested Putin’s comments were “irresponsible rhetoric,” saying it did not have “any sign” that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons but would “continue to monitor this carefully.”

“We have communicated in the past privately and directly with Russia about the consequences of the use of a nuclear weapon,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told a press briefing.

On the campaign trail

Putin’s address lasted more than two hours – breaking his previous record, according to Russian state media TASS – and came shortly before Russians vote in the March 17 presidential election, when Putin is expected to sweep to a fifth term and extend his rule until at least 2030.

He lauded the progress of Russia’s military, which he said was “confidently advancing in a number of operational areas and liberating more and more territories” and now “firmly holds the initiative” in Ukraine, after Kyiv’s recent retreat from the eastern town of Avdiivka.

He confirmed Russia will bolster its military presence along its Western border to “neutralize the threats” of NATO expansion after Finland and Sweden joined the alliance following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin also used his speech to laud the performance of Russia’s economy and unveil new national projects ahead of the election, where he faces no credible opposition after the country’s only anti-war candidate was barred from standing and Alexey Navalny, Putin’s most formidable opponent, died in an Arctic prison last Friday.

Despite Western sanctions, Putin said Russia’s economy has “moved on much more dynamically” than the rest of the world, “particularly in regards to the other countries in the so-called G7.”

He conceded that Russia is not at the “peak” of its demography due to social changes like young people pursuing their careers and delaying having children. Like many countries, Russia is grappling with the challenge of falling birth rates.

“Supporting families with children is our fundamental moral choice. A large family with many children should become the norm, the philosophy of social life, the guideline of the entire state strategy,” Putin said, announcing social support programs for mothers.

Discussing Russian health policy, he also advised Russian citizens to adhere to a Soviet-era motto, “Stop drinking, start skiing.”

Putin praised those who have served in the “special military operation,” Russia’s euphemism for the war in Ukraine, and said its veterans “will be able to receive higher education and a civilian speciality in our leading universities.”

He called those who have served are Russia’s “true, real elite,” unlike those who “filled their pockets due to all sorts of processes in the economy in the 1990s” while the Soviet Union crumbled.

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