Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to rule out the possibility of launching nuclear weapons should tensions between Russia and the West boil over.
During a Russian Council for Civil Society and Human Rights web meeting held on Wednesday, Putin was pushed by an attendee to confirm that "Russia will not be the first to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances", given that there are now "a lot of fears" concerning the risk of nuclear war.
Putin replied: "if it does not use them first under any circumstances, then it will not use them second either, because the possibilities of use in the event of a nuclear strike on our territory are severely limited."
In seemingly contradictory remarks, Putin subsequently suggested that Russia's nuclear strategy is based on its ability to launch a retaliatory, rather than first, strike: "when a blow hits us, we strike back."
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Nonetheless, Putin conceded that the risk of nuclear war is "growing", but added that Russia "is not going to wave nuclear weapons around like a razor", adding "We are not crazy, we are aware of what nuclear weapons are."
Such remarks are difficult to reconcile with the repeated and thinly-veiled threats of Russia deploying nuclear weapons in its faltering efforts to win the war in Ukraine.
In a speech delivered on the eve of the invasion, Putin threatened "those who may be tempted to interfere" in Russia's efforts to subjugate Ukraine with "consequences such as you have never seen in your entire history". Several days later, he put Russia's nuclear forces on "special alert", alarming numerous Western nuclear experts.
In October, Putin personally oversaw Russia's annual nuclear exercises which involved, according to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, preparation for a "massive nuclear strike by [Russia's] strategic nuclear forces" on Western territory.