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Putin denies Russia intends to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine


Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with the heads of delegations of the Conference of Heads of Security and Intelligence Agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries via a videoconference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

By Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko


President Vladimir Putin on Thursday tried to appeal to conservatives in the United States and Europe, using an annual foreign policy speech to accuse Western elites of trying to impose their “pretty strange” values on the rest of the world.


Putin also denied that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, despite his frequent hints in recent months that he might do so, asserting, “We have no need to do this.”


During a nearly four-hour speech and question-and-answer session at a conference in Moscow, the Russian president relied on arguments used to animate the culture wars in the United States and Europe, making reference to “dozens of genders,” “gay parades” and “neoliberal elites.”


His remarks, coming as the Russian army is losing ground in Ukraine, appeared intended to capitalize on political divisions in the United States and other Western democracies that have only heightened since they began showering Ukraine with military aid to fend off the Russian invasion.


The themes of Putin’s speech took on particular resonance given the coming midterm elections in the United States and growing discontent in Europe over the costs of the war. He said in America, “there’s a very strong part of the public who maintain traditional values, and they’re with us.”


“There are at least two Wests,” Putin said. One, he said, is a West of “traditional, mainly Christian values” for which Russians feel kinship. But, Putin said, “there’s another West — aggressive, cosmopolitan, neocolonial, acting as the weapon of the neoliberal elite,” and trying to impose its “pretty strange” values on everyone else.


Putin claimed it was the West that was escalating nuclear tensions surrounding Ukraine. “There’s no sense in it for us, neither political nor military,” he said.


His comments on nuclear weapons, at an annual foreign policy conference in Moscow, are unlikely to reassure Ukraine or Western nations. He and other senior officials have repeatedly suggested that Russia might resort to nuclear weaponry. And the Kremlin’s assurances in the past have often proved untrustworthy; top officials issued multiple denials in the days before the war that Russia intended to invade Ukraine.


“This is a trick — it shouldn’t make anyone relax,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst, said, noting that Putin has blamed every escalation in the war, including the invasion itself, on the West and its support for an independent Ukraine. “His goal is to show that escalation is the product of Western policies.”


Putin insisted that Russia did not fundamentally see itself as an “enemy of the West.” Rather, he said — as he has before — that it was “Western elites” that he was fighting, ones who were trying to impose their “pretty strange” values on everyone else.


In a question-and-answer session after the speech, the event’s moderator, foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, pressed Putin on the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not appear to have gone according to plan. And he said that there was a widespread view that Russia had “underestimated the enemy.”


“Honestly, society doesn’t understand — what’s the plan?” Lukyanov asked.


Putin brushed aside the implicit criticism, arguing that Ukraine’s fierce resistance showed why he was right to launch the invasion. The longer Russia had waited, he said, “the worse it would have been for us, the more difficult and more dangerous.”


Putin repeated Russia’s unfounded claims that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” on its territory and blame Moscow. Ukraine and the West say that the claims are disinformation that could be used as a pretext by the Kremlin to use a nuclear weapon.


In Ukraine, officials ridiculed Putin’s speech. Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, said the Russian president was accusing the West of what he has been doing himself, like violating another country’s sovereignty. “Any speech by Putin can be described in two words: ‘for Freud,’” Podolyak posted on Twitter.

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