Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address in Moscow,...

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to fulfill Moscow’s goals in Ukraine and sternly warned the West against deeper involvement in the fighting, saying that such a move is fraught with the risk of a global nuclear conflict.

Putin's blunt warning came in a state-of-the-nation address ahead of next month’s election he’s all but certain to win, underlining his readiness to raise the stakes in the tug-of-war with the West to protect the Russian gains in Ukraine.

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 "talking about the possibility of sending a NATO contingent to Ukraine.”

“We remember the fate of those who sent their troop contingents to the territory of our country,” the Russian leader said in an apparent allusion to the failed invasions by Napoleon and Hitler. “Now the consequences for the potential invaders will be far more tragic.”

In a two-hour speech before an audience of lawmakers and top officials, Putin cast Western leaders as reckless and irresponsible and declared that the West should keep in mind that “we also have the weapons that can strike targets on their territory, and what they are now suggesting and scaring the world with, all that raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilization.”

The strong statement followed earlier warnings from Putin, who has issued frequent reminders of Russia's nuclear might since he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 as he sought to discourage the West from expanding its military support for Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address in Moscow,...

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Credit: AP/Mikhail Klimentyev

Putin emphasized that Russia’s nuclear forces are in “full readiness,” saying that the military has deployed potent new weapons, some of them tested on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Kremlin leader said they include the new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that has entered service with Russian nuclear forces, along with the Burevestnik atomic-powered cruise missile and the Poseidon atomic-powered, nuclear-armed drone, which are completing their tests.

At the same time, he rejected Western leaders’ statements about the threat of a Russian attack on NATO allies in Europe as “ravings” and again dismissed Washington's claim that Moscow was pondering the deployment of space-based nuclear weapons.

Putin charged that the U.S. allegations were part of a ploy to draw Russia into talks on nuclear arms control on American terms even as Washington continues its efforts to deliver a “strategic defeat” to Moscow in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address in Moscow,...

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

“Ahead of the U.S. election, they just want to show their citizens, as well as others, that they continue to rule the world,” he said. “It won't work.”

In his speech that focused heavily on economic and social issues ahead of the March 15-17 presidential vote, Putin argued that Russia was “defending its sovereignty and security and protecting our compatriots” in Ukraine, charging that the Russian forces have the upper hand in the fighting.

He reaffirmed his claim that the West was bent on destroying Russia, saying "they need a dependent, waning, dying space in the place of Russia so that they can do whatever they want.”

The Russian leader honored the troops fallen in Ukraine with a moment of silence, and said that military veterans should form the core of the country's new elite, inviting them to join a new training program for senior civil servants.

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 signaled a desire to negotiate an end to the fighting but warned that Russia will hold onto its gains.

Putin, 71, who is running as an independent candidate in the March 15-17 presidential election, relies on the tight control over Russia’s political system that he has established during 24 years in power.

Prominent critics who could challenge him have either been imprisoned or are living abroad, while most independent media have been banned, meaning that Putin’s reelection is all but assured. He faces token opposition from three other candidates nominated by Kremlin-friendly parties represented in parliament.

Russia’s best-known opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose attempt to run against Putin in 2018 was rejected, 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.

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME