Putin threatens nuclear war if NATO troops help Ukraine.jpgw1440

Putin threatens nuclear war if NATO troops help Ukraine

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual State of the Union address on Thursday to target the West, threatening to use nuclear weapons against NATO countries if they send troops to protect Ukraine from a Russian victory protect.

In a speech to the Russian Federal Assembly focused primarily on the economy, Putin issued a strong warning and threatened retaliatory strikes against the West in the event of attacks on Russian territory.

“They must understand that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory,” he said, warning of “tragic consequences” if NATO troops were ever stationed in Ukraine. “All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Do not you understand?”

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Western leaders, he continued, considered the war “a caricature,” adding that Russia’s “strategic nuclear forces were in a state of full readiness.” He boasted that Russia's most advanced nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons, such as the Kinzhal and Zircon missiles, had been deployed in Ukraine, while others were in the final stages of testing.

Putin has previously indicated that Russia was prepared to use its nuclear weapons, but Thursday's warning was unusually harsh.

“They are talking about the possible deployment of NATO military contingents in Ukraine,” Putin said, referring to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron this week who suggested that stationing foreign forces in Ukraine remained an option – an option that some NATO leaders included Chancellor Olaf Scholz has since objected to.

“We remember what happened to those who once sent their contingents to the territory of our country. Now the invaders will have much more tragic consequences,” Putin said, adding that Russia would also strengthen its western military district after Sweden and Finland – which share a long land border with Russia – joined the alliance.

Sweden cleared the final hurdle to joining NATO when the Hungarian parliament approved its application to join on Monday. Both Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago.

As Putin addressed his well-known anti-Western themes, including his accusation that Western nations were determined to destroy Russia from within, his audience consisted of military personnel, Russian parliamentarians and hand-picked members of the public such as sports stars and film directors and patriotic volunteers. Some in the audience nodded along and took notes during the president's speech. Some stared blankly into space while others giggled and applauded on cue.

The speech was also broadcast live on advertising screens in malls across the country as well as in movie theaters.

At the beginning of the speech, which lasted just over two hours, a minute's silence was observed for the Russian soldiers fighting at the front.

“The special military operation was supported by the absolute majority of the population. “The people stuck to this decision,” Putin said, using the Kremlin’s name for the war in Ukraine.

The Russian leader is expected to remain in power for the foreseeable future given presidential elections next month that were rigged by the Kremlin to exclude real opponents. Only three other candidates were allowed to run. This is part of the Kremlin's effort to project the appearance of democratic competition without posing a threat to Putin's rule.

All three have declared their support for Putin, while two anti-war candidates have both been barred from running.

The speech comes at a politically sensitive time – on the eve of the funeral of his main political rival Alexei Navalny on Friday in Moscow. Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin on Wednesday of ordering her husband's killing and preventing the family from renting a private hall where his coffin could be laid out for a public send-off before the funeral.

Navalny was barred from running against Putin in the 2018 presidential election, was poisoned by Federal Security Service agents in 2020, was imprisoned in 2021 and died on February 16 in Polar Wolf Prison.

After Russia's recent capture of the town of Avdiivka and the nearby village of Lastochkyne – both settlements were virtually leveled after months of Russian bombardment – Putin showed he was increasingly confident of winning in Ukraine.

Uncertainty over Ukraine's ability to prevail against Russia has deepened after the failure of its counteroffensive last year – and after a $95 billion U.S. security aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan stalled in Congress , after Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (La.) sent the House of Representatives on a two-week vacation without bringing the bill to a vote.