Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Russia could return to nuclear weapons testing and might withdraw its ratification of a landmark nuclear test ban treaty.
In an address on Thursday that touched on topics such as nuclear weapons, energy, and the war in Ukraine, Putin also said that Russia had tested a new nuclear-powered missile delivery system but had not decided whether to resume the testing of explosives.
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“I think no person of sound mind and clear memory would think of using nuclear weapons against Russia,” Putin said in the speech at a forum of foreign policy experts in Sochi.
“I hear calls to start testing nuclear weapons, to return to testing,” he added. “I am not ready to say whether we really need to conduct tests or not.”
He announced that Russia has effectively completed the development of the Burevestnik cruise missile and the Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile and will work on putting them into production.
“We conducted the last successful test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered global-range cruise missile,” he said. His statement was the first announcement of a successful test of the Burevestnik, which translates as “Storm Petrel.” It was first mentioned by Putin in 2018.
Little is known about the Burevestnik, which was code-named Skyfall by NATO, and many Western experts have been sceptical about it, noting that a nuclear engine could be highly unreliable.
It is believed to be able to carry a nuclear warhead or a conventional one, and potentially could stay aloft for a much longer time than other missiles and cover much more distance, due to nuclear propulsion.
Putin’s speech is the latest in which the Russian leader underscored the country’s nuclear capabilities, as relations between Russia and Western powers remain tense over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Putin said that it was “theoretically” possible for Russia to withdraw from the nuclear test ban treaty, which generally prohibits the testing of nuclear weapons, but that no decision has been made.
He also noted that the United States has not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, stating that Russia, which ratified the agreement in 2000, may follow in its steps.
‘New Iron Curtain’
In the wide-ranging speech, the Russian president said that the West was trying to create “a new Iron Curtain” and laid responsibility for the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the feet of Western powers.
“The war, which was started by the Kyiv regime with active support from the West, has been going on already for 10 years,” he said. “The special military operation was launched to stop it.”
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Since then, thousands of civilians have been killed and millions of others have fled the country, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed or wounded on each side and large swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine have been devastated in the fighting.
Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian officials reported that a Russian missile strike had slammed into a grocery store and cafe near the city of Kharkiv, killing at least 51 people.
In his speech, Putin also said that Russia was attempting to create a “new world” in defiance of Western “hegemony”, praising the rising influence of Eastern countries such as India and China.
He also reiterated Russia’s opposition to Ukraine’s accession to NATO, which he deemed a tool of US foreign policy, but said that he has no objections to Ukraine joining the European Union.