Putin warns that sending Western troops to Ukraine risks a global nuclear conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his 2024 state-of-the-nation address in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his 2024 state-of-the-nation address in Moscow. Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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The Russian president vowed to fulfil his objectives in Ukraine and claimed his country's citizens are overwhelmingly supportive of the invasion.

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President Vladimir Putin has used his state-of-the-nation address to hail Russian national unity and warn the West against deeper involvement in the war between Russia and Ukraine. 

His speech comes ahead of an election he’s all but certain to win, with serious contenders legally excluded from the race.

Addressing an audience of top officials in a speech broadcast live nationwide, Putin said that Russia was “defending its sovereignty and security and protecting our compatriots.” 

Putin hailed Russian soldiers and honoured those who were killed in fighting with a moment of silence. He insisted that the so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine enjoyed the support of most Russian citizens – this even as new polling shows Russians' support for the war in Ukraine is collapsing

International estimates are that the country has already lost more than 400,000 troops since it invaded its neighbour in February 2022, and it is reportedly on course to hit the half-million mark by the end of this year.

Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden on Defender of the Fatherland Day.
Vladimir Putin takes part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden on Defender of the Fatherland Day.Alexander Kazakov/Copyright 2024 Sputnik

Putin also reiterated that any Western "threats" against Russia would meet with catastrophic consequences, a clear reference to Russia's nuclear weapons capability.

In an apparent reference to French President Emmanuel Macron's statement earlier this week that the future deployment of Western ground troops to Ukraine should not be “ruled out”, Putin warned that it would lead to “tragic” consequences for the countries who decide to do that.

Putin noted that while accusing Russia of plans to attack NATO allies in Europe, Western allies were “selecting targets for striking our territory and selecting the most efficient as they think striking assets and talking about the possibility of sending a NATO contingent to Ukraine.”

“Don't they understand it?” he said, alleging that Western leaders are playing with options of deeper involvement in the conflict, as in a simulation. “Those people haven't been through any tough challenges and they have forgotten what war means.”

Putin has repeatedly said that he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 to protect Russian interests and prevent Ukraine from posing a major security threat to Russia by joining NATO. Kyiv and its allies have denounced it as an unprovoked act of aggression.

The Russian leader has repeatedly signalled a desire to negotiate an end to the fighting, but has warned that Russia will hold onto its gains.

Officially unopposed

Putin, 71, is running as an independent candidate in the March 15-17 presidential election, from which all noteworthy opposition figures have been barred.

His rule depends on tight control over Russia’s political system. Prominent critics who could challenge him have either been imprisoned or are living abroad, while most independent media have been banned. 

Putin currently faces only token opposition from three other candidates nominated by Kremlin-friendly parties represented in parliament.

Russia’s best-known opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, died suddenly in an Arctic prison colony earlier this month, while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges. Navalny’s funeral is set for Friday.

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