Russia could send missiles closer to West, Putin says

Samia Nakhoul and Guy Faulconbridge |

Vladimir Putin says allowing Ukraine to strike Russia with more powerful weapons is  an escalation.
Vladimir Putin says allowing Ukraine to strike Russia with more powerful weapons is an escalation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he could deploy conventional missiles within striking distance of the United States and its European allies if they allowed Ukraine to strike deeper into Russia with long-range Western weapons.

Putin, in his first face-to-face meeting with senior editors of international news agencies since the war in Ukraine began, on Wednesday said the West was wrong to assume Russia would never use nuclear weapons, and said the Kremlin’s nuclear doctrine should not be taken lightly.

When asked about NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s calls to allow Ukraine to use Western weapons to strike Russian territory, Putin differentiated between different missiles but warned allowing Kyiv to strike Russia with ever more powerful weapons was a serious escalation that was drawing the West towards a war with Russia.

Russia’s response, the 71-year-old Kremlin chief said, would be to shoot down the Western missiles, and specifically mentioned US ATACMS, and British and French missile systems.

Ukrainian troops on the Donetsk front line
Soldiers fire a 120mm mortar towards Russian positions on the front line at an undisclosed location. (EPA PHOTO)

Putin also said Moscow was considering deploying similar high-technology, long-range missiles close enough to strike the states that allowed Ukraine to strike Russian territory with such missiles.

“If we see that these countries are being drawn into a war against the Russian Federation, then we reserve the right to act in the same way. In general, this is a path to very serious problems,” Putin said.

He spoke to journalists for more than three hours at the newly built 81-floor Gazprom tower ahead of the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Putin did not give specifics of where he was considering delivering such missiles.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 touched off the worst breakdown in relations between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kremlin has repeatedly warned the risk of a global war is rising.

US President Joe Biden authorised Kyiv to launch some US-supplied weapons at military targets inside Russia. Washington still prohibits Kyiv from striking Russia with ATACMS, which have a range of up to 300km, and other long-range US-supplied weapons.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, during a visit to Kyiv on May 3, told Reuters Ukraine had a right to use the weapons provided by Britain to strike targets inside Russia, and it was up to Kyiv whether to do so.

More than two years into the deadliest land war in Europe since World War II, Putin is increasingly talking of the risk of a global conflict as the West grapples with what to do about the advance of Russian troops in Ukraine.

When asked about the risk of nuclear war, Putin said Russia’s nuclear doctrine allowed the use of such weapons.

“For some reason, the West believes that Russia will never use it,” Putin said when asked by Reuters about the risk of nuclear escalation over Ukraine during more than three hours of questioning.

“We have a nuclear doctrine, look what it says. If someone’s actions threaten our sovereignty and territorial integrity, we consider it possible for us to use all means at our disposal. This should not be taken lightly, superficially.”

Russia’s published 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out the conditions under which a Russian president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or to the use of conventional weapons against Russia “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”

Putin dismissed Western assertions that Russia has employed nuclear sabre rattling and pointed out the US was the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war – attacking the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.