From warning on nuclear war to ‘psychotropic drugs’: Here are 5 things Putin told the Russian media

Russian President Vladimir Putin making a speech at the second Eurasian Economic Forum on May 24, 2023, in Moscow, Russia.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has given a wide-ranging interview to the Russian press a few days ahead of the presidential election, which will see Putin elected to another six years in power — short of a miraculous change in the immediate course of Russian politics.

In an interview with pro-Kremlin media published Tuesday, Putin laid out his vision for relations with the West, war and peace. Here are five comments he made ahead of the March 15-17 vote.

1) Russia ‘technically’ ready for nuclear war

Putin was again keen to point out that Russia is ready for a nuclear war on a technical and military level.

“From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready … [and] constantly in a state of combat readiness,” Putin said in the interview with news channel Rossiya-1 and news agency RIA Novosti published Tuesday.

Putin cautioned that the possibility of a nuclear war was not a near-term prospect, with cool heads likely to prevail to prevent a “rushing” toward such a scenario. Nonetheless, Putin said Russia would be ready to conduct nuclear tests — if the U.S. did so.

2) The price Russia is willing to pay in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022.

Mikhail Klimentyev | Afp | Getty Images

In the interview Tuesday, excerpts of which were published extensively by RIA Novosti, Putin made a veiled acknowledgment of the human sacrifices in the war, but said that Russia had to protect its “citizens” in Ukraine, specifically in the four regions that Russia said it had annexed in September 2022.

“Look, every human life is priceless, every one. And the loss of a loved one for a family, for any family, is a huge grief … [but] if we abandon these people today, then tomorrow our losses may increase many times over, and our children will have no future, because we will feel insecure, we will be a third- or fourth-rate country, no one will take us into account, if we can’t protect ourselves. And the consequences could be catastrophic for Russian statehood.”

3) Prospects of peace talks

Russia reiterated its stance that it is ready for peace talks with Ukraine but these had to be based on reality — that is, Russia’s perception that annexed regions in Ukraine are now part of the Russian Federation — and that it wants security guarantees that NATO won’t expand to include Ukraine.

“Are we ready for negotiations? Yes, we are ready,” Putin told Rossiya-1’s Kiselev, before qualifying the remark: “Yet [we are] only ready for negotiations which are not based on some ‘wishes and dreams’ after using psychotropic drugs, but based on the realities that have emerged, as they say in such cases, on the ground,” he said.

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Russia and Ukraine are far from peace negotiations while the war remains in a “hot,” active phase, defense analysts say, although Russia appears keen to show a willingness to talk, particularly as Ukraine struggles on the battlefield amid personnel and ammunition shortages.

“Now to negotiate just because they are running out of ammunition is somehow ridiculous on our part,” Putin said. “We are, however, ready for a serious conversation, and we want to resolve all conflicts, especially this conflict, through peaceful means.”

4) Putin doesn’t trust anyone

Putin said that for Russia to enter meaningful peace talks, Russia must be given “security guarantees” — presumably on NATO not expanding to include Ukraine. Russia says it was given assurances that NATO would not expand eastward into Eastern Europe — one of its long-standing bugbears. NATO vehemently denies that such an agreement was ever made.

Putin raised the subject again in the interview Tuesday, telling the interviewer that “we’ve already been promised everything many times. We’ve been promised not to expand NATO to the East, and then we see them at our borders,” he said.

“I don’t want to say this, but I don’t trust anyone. We need guarantees. Guarantees must be spelled out, they must be ones that suit us and that we will believe in. … Now it is probably premature to talk publicly about what this could be but we certainly won’t buy into any empty promises.”

Early on in the war, it was felt that there was wiggle room over the thorny issue of NATO membership, with an idea to grant Ukraine security guarantees rather than a future place in the Western military alliance. But positions have hardened since those early, failed peace talks, with NATO saying Ukraine could join the bloc in future.

5) Red lines

During the war, and indeed before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, there has been much talk of “red lines” by both sides. Although the boundaries of these ideological limits have shifted (for example, Ukraine’s allies initially said they would not give Kyiv tanks or long-range missiles, but some do now) there have been some “red lines” that have appeared to be a step too far for both sides.

U.S. President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images

The latest issue is the possibility of NATO countries sending ground troops into Ukraine, a possibility mooted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said there were “no limits” to Paris’ support for Ukraine, refusing to rule out the sending of ground troops to the country.

Moscow reacted furiously to the comments, saying it would lead to an “inevitable” direct conflict between NATO and Russia. Other NATO members were quick to distance themselves from the comments, too, saying the sending of ground troops was not a possibility.

Putin said in his latest interview that countries that say they have no red lines regarding Russia “must understand that in Russia there will be no red lines in relation to these states either.”

“Basically, based on results we see today of what is happening on the battlefield, we are coping with the tasks that we set for ourselves. As for the states who say that they have no ‘red lines’ regarding Russia, then they must understand that in Russia there will be no ‘red lines’ regarding these states either.” 

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