Russian President Vladimir Putin has a straightforward message for Western leaders as nuclear tensions continue to escalate between Moscow and Washington, D.C.
“We have more [nuclear] weapons than NATO countries,” Putin said during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday. “They know about it, and they keep nudging us to start negotiations to decrease it. Screw them, you know, as people say.”
The harsh words arrived a few minutes after Putin announced that Russia had officially moved some tactical nuclear warheads to Belarus as previously promised to Belarusian President and Kremlin ally Alexander Lukashenko. Putin emphasized, however, that he sees no immediate need for Russia to resort to using such weapons in the war in Ukraine, and said that moving the warheads “is precisely as an element of deterrence so that all those who are thinking about inflicting a strategic defeat on us are not oblivious to this circumstance,” Reuters reported .
Russian authorities have repeatedly teased the possibility of using nuclear weapons since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. On Thursday, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, told reporters that the Kremlin hadn’t ruled out the possibility of using nuclear weapons to defend itself, adding that “the hypothetical use of nuclear weapons is clearly limited by extraordinary circumstances within the framework of strictly defensive purposes.”
Putin further strained nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Russia after announcing this year that Moscow would be suspending its end of the deal laid out in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The White House has said that it’s ready to talk “without conditions” about the future of a nuclear arms treaty with the Kremlin, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Thursday that recent conversations between the two adversaries only “confirmed their opposing, irreconcilable positions. “
“The suspension of New START remains in effect and this decision may be revoked or reconsidered only if the U.S. demonstrates a willingness to abandon its fundamentally hostile policy toward the Russian Federation,” Ryabkov told the Russian state news site TASS.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov followed up on Putin’s remarks on Friday, telling TASS that the phrase “f*** them” does not mean that Moscow is opposed to discussions on the future of nuclear arms deals with Washington.
“Russia is ready to negotiate,” Peskov said.
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