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  4. 'Russia can strike Western targets': Putin warns of nuclear war risk if NATO troops sent to Ukraine | WATCH

'Russia can strike Western targets': Putin warns of nuclear war risk if NATO troops sent to Ukraine | WATCH

Putin alleged that the Western countries are trying to drag Russia into an arms race and said Moscow is ready for dialogue with the US, but would not be forced into them. His annual address comes two weeks before Russia's upcoming presidential elections in which Putin is expected to win.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Updated on: February 29, 2024 16:30 IST
Russia, Vladimir Putin, annual address, West
Image Source : REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering his annual address to the Federal Assembly on Thursday

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday claimed that Western countries are trying to destroy Russia from within and said that his government would not allow anyone to interfere in the country's internal affairs. He also said that most Russian citizens supported his decision to invade Ukraine in 2022, which Moscow calls a "special military operation".

"The so-called West with its colonial habits, the habit of igniting national conflicts around the world, is not just trying to restrain our development. Instead of Russia, they need a dependent, fading, dying space where they can do whatever they want. Essentially, they would like to do the same with Russia as they did in many other regions of the world, including Ukraine. They want to bring discord to our home and weaken us from within," he said during his annual address to the Russian Parliament.

"The political system of Russia is one of the pillars of the country's sovereignty. We will continue to develop democratic institutions. We will not allow anyone to interfere in our internal affairs," the Russian President added, as he asserted that Moscow was “defending its sovereignty and security and protecting our compatriots” in Ukraine. 

With Ukrainian forces on the back foot, short of ammunition and forced to retreat in some areas, Kyiv's ability to repel Russia's invasion depends heavily on Western military, financial and political backing. Putin has repeatedly signalled a desire to negotiate an end to the fighting but warned that Russia will hold onto its gains.

'West at risk of nuclear war if they sent troops to Ukraine'

In a staunch warning, Putin also warned Western countries that they are at risk of nuclear war if they sent their own troops to fight in Ukraine, adding that Russia had the weapons to strike targets in the West. This came after an idea was floated by French President Emmanuel Macron of European NATO members sending their ground troops to Ukraine, which was quickly rejected by other countries.

"(Western nations) must realise that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory. All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilisation. Don't they get that?!" said Putin, adding that the West is bent on weakening Russia. The war in Ukraine has triggered the worst crisis in Moscow's relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Putin has previously warned of the dangers of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Putin suggested Western politicians recall the fate of those, like Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler and France's Napoleon Bonaparte who unsuccessfully invaded his country in the past. "But now the consequences will be far more tragic. They think it (war) is a cartoon," he further said.

Putin holds a moment of silence for soldiers killed in Ukraine

Putin also paid tribute to Russian soldiers and honoured those who were killed in fighting with a moment of silence. His speech came two weeks ahead of a presidential election, in which Putin is expected to win another six-year term in a landslide.

"Today, when our homeland is defending its sovereignty and security and protecting the lives of our fellow countrymen in Donbas and Novorossiya, the decisive role in this righteous struggle belongs to our citizens, our unity, devotion to our native country and responsibility for its fate," he said.

West trying to drag us into arms race: Putin

The Kremlin leader also accused the West of trying to pull Russia into an arms race and pledged to increase the technological and industrial potential of the country. "They are trying to wear us down, to repeat the trick they succeeded (in pulling off) with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Therefore, our task is to develop the defence-industrial complex in such a way as to increase the scientific, technological and industrial potential of the country," he added.

He also said Russia will be among the four largest economic powers in the near future and that the deficit of highly qualified staff and lack of own high-level technology are potential risks for the Russian economy. He further said that  Russia had used advanced weapons systems, including Zircon hypersonic missiles, and that it held the military advantage in Ukraine.

"The hypersonic dagger aircraft system has not only been put into service, but is also being used with high efficiency to hit particularly important targets in the course of the special military operation. The hypersonic sea-based complex Zircon has also already been used in battle. The hypersonic units of the intercontinental range Avangard (and) the laser systems Peresvet are on combat duty. The tests of the Burevestnik unlimited-range cruise missile are being finalised. And the unmanned underwater vehicle Poseidon... The first mass-produced Sarmat heavy ballistic missiles have been delivered to the troops," he said on combat readiness.

'Ready for dialogue with US, but won't be forced'

Putin also told the parliament that Moscow is ready for dialogue with the United States on strategic stability, but rejected any attempts to force Russia into talks. He told the parliament that they are dealing with a country whose leadership is taking "openly hostile actions" against Russia, citing unsubstantiated accusations as a 'ploy' to drag Russia into negotiations with the US. 

"Russia is ready for dialogue with the United States on the issues of strategic stability... Our position is clear - if you want to discuss the significant, important issue of security and stability which is important for the entire planet, you must do so only in a single junction, naturally including all those aspects that affect our national interests and directly affect the security of our country, the security of Russia," he added.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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