Explainers

From slamming US at Munich to threatening NATO with a missile: Vladimir Putin’s menacing salvos against West

Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, ordering Russia's first military mobilisation since World War Two, warned Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal if the West continued its ‘nuclear blackmail’

FP Explainers September 21, 2022 14:39:45 IST

In this image made from a video released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian president Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday. AP

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial mobilisation in Russia over the Ukraine war and warned the West that Russia would use all means at its disposal to protect its territory

Putin in his address restated his objective was to “liberate” eastern Ukraine’s Donbas industrial heartland and that most people in the region did not want to return to what he called the “yoke” of Ukraine.

Putin ordered Russia’s first military mobilisation since World War Two, warning the West that if it continued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” that Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.

But Putin’s pronouncement should come as no surprise to watchers of the Kremlin.

Also read: From Russia’s war in Ukraine to food crisis: Why it’s not business as usual at UNGA

After all, the ex-KGB agent has a long history of sabre-rattling against those he regards as foreign enemies (read: The West) of the Russian state.

Let’s take a look at his most belligerent statements:

‘US wants to dominate world’ – March 2007

After then spending seven years in power, Putin, laying down the marker of what was to come, went on a harsh attack on the United States.

As per Vox, Putin claimed ‘no one felt safe’ under the American-led global order and that Russia and the world had reached a ‘decisive moment” for moving away from it.

Putin further claimed the United States was making the world a more dangerous place by pursuing policies aimed at making it “one single master”.

Russian president Vladimir Putin in his speech said ‘people who want to teach us democracy don’t want to learn it themselves’. AP File

Attacking the concept of a “unipolar” world in which the United States was the sole superpower, Putin said: “What is a unipolar world? No matter how we beautify this term it means one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master.”

“It has nothing in common with democracy because that is the opinion of the majority taking into account the minority opinion,” he told the gathering of top security and defence officials.

“People are always teaching us democracy but the people who teach us democracy don’t want to learn it themselves.”

The foreign policy address came in the backdrop of US’ plans to deploy parts of an anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.  Washington had argued that says the system was needed to defend against rockets launched by Iran and North Korea — an argument Moscow rejected out of hand.

Putin said the United States had repeatedly overstepped its national borders in questions of international security, a policy that he said had made the world less, not more, safe.

“Unilateral actions have not resolved conflicts but have made them worse,” Putin said, adding that force should only be used when backed by the UN Security Council.

“This is very dangerous. Nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law,” he said.

This came at a time when the US soldiers were struggling against an insurgency in Iraq.

Putin also said the increased use of force was “causing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons”.

He did not name the countries.

Then Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the Russian president was trying to provoke Washington. “This is not about confrontation. It’s an invitation to think,” he told reporters.

‘Knock teeth out of foreign aggressors’ – May 2021

In  May 2021, an belligerent Putin vowed Moscow would “knock out the teeth” of any power that tried to take a chunk of Russia’s territory.

The Russian leader, in televised remarks during a virtual meeting with senior officials, cited what he said were foreign remarks questioning Russia’s control of energy-rich Siberia.

This came as a similar comment was attributed in Russia to a former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who denied making it.

“Some even dare to say publicly that it is allegedly unfair that Russia owns the wealth of a region such as Siberia. Only one country does,” said Putin.

Using combative language that appeals to his power base among the armed and security forces, Putin said Moscow would give a blunt and forceful response to any would-be aggressors.

Vladimir Putin made the remarks citing some who questioned Russia’s control of Siberia. AP

“Everyone wants to ‘bite’ us somewhere or ‘bite off’ something of ours, but those that would do this should know that we will knock out the teeth of all of them so they aren’t able to bite… And the key to this is the development of our armed forces,” he said.

The comments also came amid a push to agree a summit between Putin and US president Joe Biden aimed at preventing Moscow’s dire relations with Washington sliding further.

‘Missile would need just five minutes’ – November 2021

Putin in November 2021 sternly warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represents a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.

Speaking on a hypersonic missile in development, Putin darkly claimed it would need just ‘five minutes’ to reach those who issue orders.

Commenting on Western concerns about Russia’s alleged intention to invade Ukraine, he said that Moscow is equally worried about NATO drills near its borders.

Speaking to participants of an online investment forum. Putin said that NATO’s eastward expansion has threatened Russia’s core security interests. He expressed concern that NATO could eventually use the Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes.

“The emergence of such threats represents a ‘red line’ for us,” Putin said. “I hope that it will not get to that and common sense and responsibility for their own countries and the global community will eventually prevail.”

Vladimir Putin threatened NATO leaders in his speech.

He added that Russia has been forced to counter the growing threats by developing new hypersonic weapons.

“What should we do?” Putin said. “We would need to develop something similar to target those who threaten us. And we can do that even now.”

He said a new hypersonic missile that is set to enter service with the Russian navy early next year would be capable of reaching targets in comparable time.

“It would also need just five minutes to reach those who issue orders,” Putin said.

‘Consequences greater than any in history’ – Feb 2022

In the aftermath of announcing the invasion of Ukraine, Putin, in a chilling threat to outsiders, warned,To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any of you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”

As per Politico, his speech also noted that Russia “is today one of the most powerful nuclear powers.”

Putin’s words were clearly aimed at dissuading the West from providing arms and money to Ukraine.

Biden in a written statement condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack,” and he vowed that the US and its allies would “hold Russia accountable.”

Putin in his speech claimed Moscow did not plan to occupy Ukraine.

Announcing the military plan, Putin claimed that military action will seek to “demilitarise” Ukraine.

“We decided to launch a special military action aimed at demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” he said.

Putin further told Ukrainian service members to “lay down their arms and go home”, saying Russia could not exist with a “constant threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine” and clashes between Russian and Ukrainian solders was “inevitable”.’

‘Ready to use nuclear weapons’ – June 2022

In June 2022, Pravda.com quoted Putin as saying that Russia is not threatening the world with nuclear weapons, but warns that it is ready to use them in the event of a threat to [Russia’s] sovereignty at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

“One irresponsible politician would blurt something out, then another – at a very high level, by the way, at the level of, say, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the top officials there are holding forth on this subject. And we’re supposed to say nothing? We answer accordingly. As soon as we answer, [everyone] latches onto that: ‘Look, Russia’s issuing threats!’ We are not threatening! But everyone needs to know that we have it and we will use it if necessary to protect our sovereignty,” Putin said.

US president Joe Biden responded by warning that Russia would face ‘extremely severe consequences’ if it used nuclear weapons.

US president Joe Biden warned Russia against using nuclear weapons. AP

Putin claimed that the legal side of the invasion, which Moscow calls “special military operation”, fully complies with international law.

“When a territory is separated from a state, it is not necessary to ask permission from the central authorities,” Ukrayinska Pravda quoted the Putin as saying as he recalled the ruling of the UN International Court of Justice on Kosovo.

“In this case the Republics of Donbas did not have to ask permission from the Kiev authorities. They declared their independence. In this regard, did we have the right to recognise them or not? Of course we did. We did that. We signed a mutual assistance agreement with them, and in accordance with this agreement, as well as with Article 151 of the UN Charter, we provide them with military assistance.

“Did we have the right? We did, in full compliance with the UN Charter. Whether people like it or not. We did it ourselves and set a precedent. Therefore, our actions are absolutely legitimate,” he added.

While acknowledging that “military action is always a tragedy”, Putin however said that the Ukraine war was a “necessary measure”.

Speaking about the numerous sanctions imposed on Russia by the West in the wake of the war, the leader they were “mad and thoughtless”.

“The economic blitzkrieg against Russia had no chance of succeeding from the very beginning,” the BBC quoted Putin as saying.

While saying that the restrictions were “more harmful” to those who imposed them, he claimed that the European Union could lose more than $400 billion because of its sanctions against Russia.

He said inflation was increasing across the 27-member bloc and the “real interests” of people in Europe were being sidelined.

‘It’s not a bluff’ – Sept 2022

On Wednesday, Putin said Russia would use all the means at its disposal to protect its territory and that “it’s not a bluff”.

The Russian leader’s televised address to the nation released Wednesday came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia. Putin’s remarks also come against the backdrop of the UN General Assembly in New York at which Moscow was warned about its referendum plans.

Putin accused the West in engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”

“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.

He added: “It’s not a bluff.”

The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes. The referendums, which have been expected to take place since the first months of the war, will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

‘Speech must be taken seriously’

Some in the West are paying close attention to Putin’s words.

British foreign office minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News the Russian president’s threats were a ‘worrying escalation’ that must be taken seriously.

“Clearly it’s something that we should take very seriously because, you know, we’re not in control – I’m not sure he’s in control either, really. This is obviously an escalation,” Keegan said.

“It is chilling … It’s a serious threat, but one that has been made before,” she told the BBC in a separate interview.

“The overall address clearly was more of Putin’s lies, it was a rewriting of history,” Keegan said.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: September 21, 2022 15:07:39 IST

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