Putin says nuclear forces 'always' on alert in Victory Day speech

AFP , Thursday 9 May 2024

President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday that his nuclear forces were "always" on alert and that Russia would not tolerate any threats from the West.

File photo - Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP


In a defiant address on Red Square before thousands of soldiers dressed in ceremonial attire, Putin heaped praise on his army fighting in Ukraine and accused "Western elites" of fomenting conflicts around the world.

"Russia will do everything to prevent a global clash, but at the same time we will not allow anyone to threaten us. Our strategic forces are always on alert," Putin said, addressing the Victory Day parade.

"Dear friends, Russia is now going through a difficult, crucial period. The fate of the Motherland, its future depends on each of us," he said.

The May 9 parade marks the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and has become Russia's most important public holiday as Putin puts the country firmly on a combat footing.

The Russian president has repeatedly framed the current fight against Ukraine as an existential battle against "Nazism".

Putin has also upped his nuclear rhetoric. Earlier this week, he ordered the Russian military to hold nuclear weapons drills involving the navy and troops based near Ukraine.

Last year Russia ditched its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and pulled out of a key arms reduction agreement with the United States.

The Victory Day parade is held on Red Square, featuring columns of Russian military equipment, including advanced missiles and air defence systems, as well as thousands of military personnel.

Russia often invites representatives from countries it deems "friendly" to the event, though attendance had dwindled even before it sent troops into Ukraine in early 2022 amid a stand-off with the West.

Eight world leaders were scheduled to attend Thursday's parade, Russian state-media reported this week, citing a Kremlin aide.

They are the heads of five ex-Soviet countries -- Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- as well as the leaders of Cuba, Laos and Guinea-Bissau.

In a high-profile snub, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signalled he would not attend amid a spat between the two allies, even though he was in Moscow on Wednesday evening for a regional summit.

The Kremlin scheduled a summit of leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union -- a regional bloc of some ex-Soviet states -- the day before the parade.

Putin 's Victory Day address comes as his troops make advances in Ukraine and just after he took oath for an unprecedented fifth term.

The 71-year-old Kremlin chief has ruled Russia since the turn of the century, securing a fresh six-year mandate in March after winning presidential elections devoid of all opposition.

Russia's army held off a much-hyped Ukrainian counter-offensive last year, and it has since made gains on the front lines as Kyiv struggles with ammunition and manpower shortages.

Thursday's festivities come two days after Putin vowed at a lavish inauguration to deliver "victory" to Russians.

"We are a united and great nation, and together we will overcome all obstacles, realise everything we have planned, and together, we will win,"

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