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Putin warns western troops in Ukraine risks nuclear war

Russia was "defending its sovereignty and security" in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said.

Russia was "defending its sovereignty and security" in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said. Photo: AAP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sternly warned the West against deeper involvement in fighting in Ukraine, saying that such a move is fraught with the risk of a global nuclear conflict.

Putin’s message came in a state-of-the-nation address before the country’s March election he is all but certain to win, underlining his readiness to protect Russian gains in Ukraine.

In an apparent reference to French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement this week that the future deployment of Western ground troops to Ukraine should not be “ruled out”, Putin warned it would lead to “tragic” consequences for the countries who decided to do that.

Putin noted that while accusing Russia of plans to attack NATO allies in Europe, Western allies were “selecting targets for striking our territory and selecting the most efficient as they think striking assets and talking about the possibility of sending a NATO contingent to Ukraine”.

“We remember the fate of those who sent their troop contingents to the territory of our country,” the Russian leader said on Thursday.

“Now the consequences for the potential invaders will be far more tragic.”

Speaking before an audience of MPs and top officials, Putin said the West should keep in mind that “we also have the weapons that can strike targets on their territory, and what they are now suggesting and scaring the world with, all that raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilisation”.

Putin emphasised that Russia’s nuclear forces were in “full readiness”, saying the military had deployed potent new weapons, some of them tested on the battlefield in Ukraine.

At the same time, he rejected Western leaders’ statements about the threat of a Russian attack on NATO allies in Europe as “ravings” and again dismissed Washington’s claim that Moscow was pondering the deployment of space-based nuclear weapons.

In his speech that focused heavily on economic and social issues before the March 15-17 presidential vote, Putin argued that Russia was “defending its sovereignty and security and protecting our compatriots” in Ukraine, charging that the Russian forces have the upper hand in the fighting.

He hailed Russian soldiers and honoured those who were killed in fighting with a moment of silence.

Putin has repeatedly said that he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 to protect Russian interests and prevent Ukraine posing a major security threat to Russia by joining NATO.

Kyiv and its allies have denounced it as an unprovoked act of aggression.

The Russian leader has repeatedly signalled a desire to negotiate an end to the fighting but warned Russia would hold on to its gains.

Putin, 71, who is running as an independent candidate in the March presidential election, relies on the tight control over Russia’s political system that he has established during 24 years in power.

Prominent critics who could challenge him have either been imprisoned or are living abroad, while most independent media have been banned, meaning that Putin’s re-election is all but assured.

He faces token opposition from three other candidates nominated by Kremlin-friendly parties represented in parliament.

Navalny’s funeral approaches

Russia’s best-known opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose attempt to run against Putin in 2018 was rejected, died suddenly in an Arctic prison colony earlier this month, while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges.

Navalny’s funeral is set for Friday local time.

The church service is planned for 2pm on Friday, with the burial at the Borisov cemetery scheduled for two hours later, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh announced on Thursday.

Everyone to whom Navalny’s political work meant something should attend, she said.

The walk from the church, which is dedicated to the “Assuage My Sorrows” icon of the Mother of God, to the cemetery takes 28 minutes, the announcement said.

Navalny’s team plans to report live on the internet about the funeral service in the southeastern district of Maryino as well as about the burial and recommended that guests arrive early.

A large security presence is expected – and there are fears that uniformed officers could block access to Navalny’s supporters.

Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya has also issued an appeal to attend the funeral service.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, received her son’s body on Saturday after days of demanding that the authorities hand it over to her.

She rejected holding a secret burial as initially demanded by the authorities.

Over the past few days, Navalny’s team had been looking for a place for the funeral service and complained that they were being obstructed by the Russian authorities.

According to Russian Orthodox custom, the dead are buried after three days, with their bodies laid out in an open coffin beforehand so that mourners can bid farewell.

However, a room for such a farewell ritual was not made available, wrote Ivan Zhdanov, the director of the anti-corruption fund founded by Navalny.

According to official information, Navalny died on February 16 at the age of 47 in a prison camp north of the Arctic Circle.

The fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was physically very weakened by a poison attack in 2020 and constant solitary confinement in the camp.

His supporters and many international observers argue that there can be no question of a “natural” cause of death, as stated on the death certificate.

Yulia Navalnaya, his team and civil rights activists have accused Putin of murdering the politician.

Anyone who publicly mourns Navalny in Russia runs the risk of being detained.

Hundreds of people have recently been detained for laying flowers for Navalny.

—AAP

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