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Putin says he sees no threat warranting use of nuclear arms but again warns Russia could arm Western foes

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks into a microphone.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.
(Anton Vaganov / Associated Press)
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President Vladimir Putin says he sees no current threat to Russia’s sovereignty that would warrant the use of nuclear weapons but has again warned that Moscow could send arms to countries or groups to strike Western targets.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, Putin said use of nuclear weapons is only possible in “exceptional cases” and that he does not believe “such a case has arisen.” The Russian leader has repeatedly raised the specter of a nuclear attack since he sent troops into Ukraine in 2022.

In St. Petersburg, he repeated a warning made days earlier that Moscow “reserves the right” to arm Western adversaries as a response to some NATO allies allowing Ukraine to use their weapons to strike targets inside Russia.

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“If they supply [weapons] to the combat zone and call for using these weapons against our territory, why don’t we have the right to do the same?” Putin asked.

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“But I’m not ready to say that we will be doing it tomorrow, either,” Putin added, suggesting that it might affect global stability.

He didn’t specify where such arms might be sent. The U.S. has said that Russia has turned to North Korea and Iran to beef up its stock of relatively simple weapons, but Moscow could dip into its stock of high-tech missiles to share with adversaries of the West if Putin decides to fulfill his threat.

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The United States and Germany recently authorized Ukraine to hit some targets on Russian soil with the long-range weapons they are supplying to Kyiv.

On Wednesday, a Western official and a U.S. senator said Ukraine has used American weapons to strike inside Russia under newly approved guidance from President Biden that allows American arms to be used to defend Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the sensitive matter, spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Putin also said he sees no need for a new round of mobilization to beef up Russia’s forces in Ukraine because, he said, “people come voluntarily and go to the front lines to defend the motherland.”

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Russia mobilized 300,000 reservists in the fall of 2022 amid a series of military setbacks in Ukraine, an unpopular move that prompted hundreds of thousands to flee the country to avoid being drafted.

Putin made the comments during a question and answer session with a pro-Kremlin moderator at the forum, which has been used by Russia for decades as a showcase for touting the country’s development and to woo investors.

Earlier in a speech, he said the Russian economy is growing despite international sanctions and said Moscow has increasing economic ties with countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Putin said Russia “remains one of the key participants in world trade,” despite the sweeping sanctions, imposed for sending troops into Ukraine, that cut off much of Russia’s trade with Western Europe, the U.S. and their allies.

The main driver of Russia’s economic growth is the fighting — now as important to the Kremlin economically as it is politically.

Russians are finding a few imported staples, and most global brands have disappeared — or been reincarnated as Russian equivalents. But not much else has changed economically for most people, with massive state spending for military equipment and hefty payments to volunteer soldiers giving a strong boost to the economy.

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