Putin warns the West that sending troops to Ukraine risks a nuclear war

Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped up his threats against Western countries Thursday, warning that if they send their own troops into Ukraine they risk global nuclear war.

Putin issued the threat at the top of his annual state of the nation address, ahead of a presidential election next month that he is certain to win. He spoke for more than two hours to Russia’s Federal Assembly at Moscow’s vast and grand Gostiny Dvor conference center, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, surrounded by typically tight security with the surrounding streets cordoned off.

Putin covered an array of topics, from Russia’s low birthrate to its need for better broadband coverage. But top of the agenda was his warning against deepening Western involvement in Ukraine.

His comments came after French President Emmanuel Macron suggested this week that NATO allies could send troops to Ukraine in the future, rather than just funding and arming the country indirectly. Macron’s suggestion was swiftly rejected by the United States and others, but Putin said that such a development would risk a wider war with potentially apocalyptic consequences.

“This is very dangerous because it could actually trigger the use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “Do they not understand that?”

The Russian leader said his strategic nuclear forces were at “full readiness” and suggested that a hypersonic nuclear weapon he first mentioned in 2018 was approaching a full state of readiness — a claim that cannot be verified. 

Putin also denied U.S. intelligence that said Russia was developing a nuclear space-based weapon designed to target American satellites.

The idea that Russia is “preparing to launch a nuclear attack in space” was “just a lie to make us look bad,” the Russian leader said.

Vladimir Putin Speech In Moscow
The Russian leader spoke for more than two hours to an audience of lawmakers and top officials.Alexander Nemenov / AFP – Getty Images

Putin has often made such threats over the past two years since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But this week’s warning was, in the eyes of some observers, his most pointed to date.

Putin’s annual address comes at a crucial moment for the Kremlin, with its forces advancing in Ukraine ahead of an election that will reinforce his rule. The death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a slew of domestic issues have fueled criticism at home and abroad, but Putin will be boosted by growing signs of wavering Western support for Kyiv.

On Monday, Macron caused a stir by suggesting that the West “should not exclude” the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine. This would be a huge practical and symbolic step for allied support of Kyiv that has so far extended to providing billions of dollars for its defense, but has deliberately stopped short of sending forces for fear of starting a direct war with nuclear-armed Russia.

The U.S. and others quickly poured cold water on the idea, with the White House saying that it had “been clear that the U.S. will not send troops to fight in Ukraine.” 

Mark Galeotti, head of the consultancy Mayak Intelligence and an honorary professor at University College London, said Macron had handed Putin a “propaganda gift” because it boosted the Russian leader’s narrative that Moscow is fighting the West at large, rather than just Ukraine.

During Putin’s speech, “his reference to potential NATO deployments to Ukraine was less, in my opinion, about warning off the West so much as using it to reinforce his message that this is a struggle against the whole collective West,” Galeotti told NBC News. “Macron gave him something of a propaganda gift.”