Putin issues apparent threat to West over supply of weapons to Ukraine to strike Russia

Russian president says his country’s forces would attack any foreign troops sent to Ukraine

Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared to threaten Nato states with attack on Tuesday, in response to calls from some alliance members for Ukraine to be given a free hand to use western-supplied weapons to strike military targets inside Russia.

A growing number of Nato members want fellow allies including the United States, Germany and Italy to allow Ukraine use arms they have provided to hit airbases, missile launchers, concentrations of troops and other targets on Russian territory.

“Representatives of Nato countries, especially in Europe, especially in small countries, should basically be aware of what they are playing with,” Mr Putin said in Moscow.

“They should remember that these are, as a rule, states with a small territory, with a very dense population. This is a factor they should bear in mind before talking about striking deep into Russian territory.”

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He did not expand on his comments, but appeared to be indicating how many casualties a Russian missile attack could cause in a small and densely populated European country.

“This constant escalation can lead to serious consequences. If these serious consequences occur in Europe, how will the United States behave... Do they want a global conflict?” Mr Putin said, while again blaming the West for all “escalation”.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that “according with the law of war, it is perfectly possible and there is no contradiction” in allowing Ukraine to hit targets inside Russia that pose a threat to Ukrainian security.

Senior officials from states including Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Estonia have echoed a call from Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg to allow Kyiv greater freedom in how it uses western-supplied arms.

“The time has come for allies to consider whether they should lift some of the restrictions,” Mr Stoltenberg told the Economist last week.

“Especially now when a lot of the fighting is going on in Kharkiv, close to the border, to deny Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard for them to defend themselves.”

Ukraine’s top military commander, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Monday evening that he had “signed the documents” to allow French military instructors to work in Ukraine. However, Kyiv’s defence ministry quickly issued a “clarification” stating that Kyiv was “still in discussions with France and other countries on this”.

Having failed to defeat Ukraine after launching a full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Kremlin now portrays the war as an existential struggle for Russians against an aggressive “collective West” that is using Ukraine to try to destroy their country.

Mr Putin said western military “specialists” were already in Ukraine masquerading as foreign “mercenaries” and warned that any western troops officially deployed to the country would be a target for Russian units.

“If they are there, then they will also be in the firing line of our armed forces,” he said. “In any case, we will do what we consider necessary regardless of whoever is on the territory of Ukraine. And they should know that for sure.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged US counterpart Joe Biden to attend next month’s planned peace summit in Switzerland, to which dozens of countries from around the world have been invited – but not Russia.

“His absence would only be applauded by Putin,” he said.

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