The Kremlin leader appeared in a better position than a year ago, when his troops were staging humiliating retreats in southern and northeastern Ukraine

Putin warns Western countries of 'real' risk of nuclear war

En esta fotografía de grupo distribuida por la agencia estatal rusa Sputnik, el presidente de Rusia, Vladímir Putin, pronuncia su discurso anual sobre el estado de la nación en el centro de conferencias Gostiny Dvor, en el centro de Moscú, el 29 de febrero de 2024 – PHOTO/Gavriil GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP
In this group photo distributed by Russia's state agency Sputnik, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at the Gostiny Dvor conference centre in central Moscow on February 29, 2024 - PHOTO/Gavriil GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday warned Western powers of the "real" risk of nuclear war if the conflict in Ukraine escalates, in his address to the nation outlining the country's priorities two weeks ahead of an uncontested presidential election.

  1. Military capabilities "multiplied"
  2. Silence on Navalni

Putin welcomed the advance of his troops on the Ukrainian front and warned of "tragic consequences" if any Western countries sent soldiers to Kiev, after French President Emmanuel Macron last week mentioned the possibility.

These countries "talked about the possibility of sending Western military contingents to Ukraine (...) But the consequences of such interventions would be more tragic indeed," Putin told Russia's political elite at the Gostiny Dvor, a congress palace near Moscow's Red Square.

"They would have to realise that we also have weapons capable of hitting targets on their territory. Everything they invent at the moment, besides scaring the world, is a real threat of a conflict in which nuclear weapons are used, which means the destruction of civilisation," he said.

Military capabilities "multiplied"

The Kremlin leader appeared in a better position than a year ago, when his troops were staging humiliating retreats in southern and northeastern Ukraine after a failed attempt to take Kiev in the spring of 2022.

But since then, Ukraine's summer counteroffensive failed and its forces are now on the defensive, short of ammunition, and outnumbered and outgunned by more numerous and better-armed Russian soldiers.

In mid-February, Moscow's forces seized the fortified town of Avdiivka on the eastern front and are continuing their offensive in this sector.

"The military capabilities of the (Russian) Armed Forces have multiplied. They are advancing steadily in several areas" of the front, Putin said on Thursday, adding that "the absolute majority of the Russian people" support the military campaign in Ukraine.

He also praised the "flexibility and resilience" of the Russian economy which, despite the onslaught of Western sanctions, is resisting and has focused on the war machine and the Asian market.

Silence on Navalni

In his speeches to the nation, Putin usually takes stock of the previous year and sets the country's strategic directions.

As usual, on Thursday he used this platform to lash out at the West, presented as the depraved enemy of the "traditional values" officially defended by the Kremlin.

"A family with many children must be the norm," he said, against a backdrop of serious demographic problems in the country, accentuated by the assault on Ukraine and the flight abroad of hundreds of thousands of people.

Putin also assured that the fight against poverty in Russia was one of his priorities and welcomed the reduction of "alcohol consumption" in the country.

The speech came on the eve of the Moscow funeral of his main opponent, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalni, who died in prison in opaque circumstances on 16 February.

Putin, who never utters Navalni's name, has yet to comment on his death, which caused a stir at home and abroad.

In the midst of the presidential campaign for the 15-17 March elections, Putin has multiplied his media appearances since the beginning of the year: he was recently seen handing out medals or aboard a Russian nuclear deterrent bomber.

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