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Putin’s Cautionary Tale: Russia’s Nuclear Capability and Western Relations

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On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin cautioned the West, stating that Russia is technically prepared for nuclear warfare. He emphasized that any deployment of U.S. troops to Ukraine would be viewed as a significant escalation of the conflict. These statements were made during an interview with the state-run news agency RIA and television channel Rossiya-1, coming just days before an upcoming election scheduled for March 15-17, which is expected to secure another six-year term in power for Putin.

“From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready,” he said in the interview. “But we do not need to use these weapons in Ukraine.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly warned the West it is ready to unleash its nuclear arsenal if it feels threatened. The warnings have been particularly intense since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But despite Moscow’s vast stockpile of more than 5,000 nuclear warheads — the world’s most significant – experts say Putin is unlikely to launch such a strike.

Russia has been a leader in developing new-generation hypersonic nuclear missiles that can reach targets at far greater speed than conventional ones. Developing these weapons is vital to the country’s military modernization program. They are expected to come into service in 2024. But it is hard to see how the Kremlin will deploy such advanced systems in an open confrontation with the West in Ukraine or anywhere else, especially when the country is struggling economically.

In the RIA/Rossiya-1 interview, Putin also reiterated that Russia was still considering restarting nuclear testing. The move follows a decision last year by Putin to revoke the country’s ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and it could set off an arms race that would threaten international stability and global peace.

Putin also criticized Finland and Sweden for joining NATO’s military alliance, saying they have no right to do so from the point of view of protecting their interests. He also slammed French President Emmanuel Macron for not ruling out the possibility of Western allies sending troops to Ukraine. “I think Biden understands that if any allies send their troops to Russia or Ukraine, we will consider this as an intervention,” he said.

The interview is the latest sign that Putin is increasingly assertive ahead of the elections as he seeks to demonstrate his leadership qualities to voters. The Kremlin also has been running a massive propaganda campaign to influence public opinion in Ukraine and abroad. The death toll from a Russian missile attack on a five-story building in the northern Ukrainian city of Sumy on Tuesday rose to four, according to local authorities. The blast also left many people injured. The Ukrainian government has accused Russia of waging a war of aggression against Ukraine, and the country’s foreign minister has urged a boycott of the Russian presidential elections. Despite these pressures, however, Putin believes that his country’s economy can withstand the costs of a protracted war with the West.

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