Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the threat of a nuclear war is increasing but insisted Moscow has not “gone mad” and would not use its arsenal first.
The United States on Wednesday was quick to denounce what it described as “loose talk” about nuclear weapons after Putin said Russia would only use an atomic weapon in response to an enemy strike.
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US State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters: “We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible.”
On Wednesday, in a televised meeting of his human rights council, Putin said Russians would “defend ourselves with all the means at our disposal”.
He warned the risk of nuclear war was growing, the latest in a series of such warnings, but that Russia saw its arsenal as a means to retaliate, not to strike first.
“We haven’t gone mad, we realise what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said.
“We have these means in more advanced and modern form than any other nuclear country … But we aren’t about to run around the world brandishing this weapon like a razor.”
Putin meets annually with the council, a body critics say has enabled him to pay lip service to civic freedoms while increasing repression and stamping out dissent.
War in Ukraine could be ‘long’
Putin also said Russian forces could be fighting in Ukraine for a long time but that he saw “no sense” in mobilising additional soldiers at this point.
“As for the duration of the special military operation, well, of course, this can be a long process,” Putin said, using his preferred term for Russia’s invasion, which started in late February.
He said there was no reason for a second mobilisation, after a call-up of at least 300,000 reservists in September and October.
Putin said 150,000 of these were deployed in Ukraine: 77,000 in combat units and the others in defensive functions. The remaining 150,000 were still at training centres.
“Under these conditions, talk about any additional mobilisation measures simply makes no sense,” he said.
Putin has rarely discussed the likely duration of the war, although he boasted in July that Russia was just getting started.
Since then, Russia has been forced into significant retreats but Putin has said he has no regrets about launching the war – Europe’s most devastating since World War Two.
More European sanctions
Meanwhile, the European Commission proposed a ninth package of sanctions on Russia, which would include almost 200 more individuals and entities on the European Union’s sanctions list.
Russia “continues to bring death and devastation to Ukraine and is deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, seeking to paralyse the country at the beginning of the winter”, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
She added that the eight packages of EU sanctions introduced so far were already biting hard and the bloc wanted to raise the pressure on Russia with a ninth package.
The eighth package was approved on October 5.
Von der Leyen said new individuals and entities proposed for the sanctions list included the Russian armed forces as well as individual officers and defence industries, members of the Russian parliament’s State Duma and Federation Council, ministers governors and political parties.
The Commission said it further aimed to cut the Kremlin’s access to drones and unmanned aerial vehicles and ban the direct export of drone engines to Russia and to any third countries, such as Iran, which could supply drones to Moscow.