MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a chilling warning Thursday about the rising threat of a nuclear war, saying “it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet” — and putting the blame squarely on the U.S.
Speaking at his annual news conference, Putin scoffed at Western claims he wants to dominate the world and said Western countries are antagonizing Russia for their own domestic reasons, and at their own peril. He dismissed claims of Russian interference abroad, from a nerve agent poisoning in Britain to an alleged effort to infiltrate the U.S. National Rifle Association.
Instead he sought to paint himself as the world’s protector. Pointing at the U.S. intention to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty, Putin warned that if the U.S. puts intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to take countermeasures.
“We are witnessing the breakup of the arms control system,” Putin said, noting the U.S. plan to opt out of the INF Treaty and its reluctance to negotiate the extension of the New START agreement. U.S. officials say the withdrawal from the INF was prompted by Russian violations of the treaty.
Putin noted that Western analysts are talking about the possibility of using low-yield nuclear weapons.
“There is a trend of lowering the threshold” of using nuclear weapons, Putin said. “Lowering the threshold could lead to a global nuclear catastrophe.”
“We will have to ensure our security,” he said. “And they shouldn’t squeak later about us gaining unilateral advantages. We aren’t seeking advantages, we are trying to preserve the balance and ensure our security.”
Putin also emphasized that the U.S. is pondering the use of ballistic missiles with conventional warheads, saying that the launch of such a missile could be mistaken for the launch of a nuclear-tipped one and trigger a global catastrophe.
“If that happens, it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet,” he said.