Russia’s latest threat is troubling – Putin’s words feel like a step up in rhetoric

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Russia likes to engage in sabre-rattling but the latest verbal volley from its president feels like a step up in rhetoric.

This is the first time Vladimir Putin has raised the prospect of sending long-range missiles to other countries to hit Western targets.

He didn’t give any specific examples and the Kremlin wouldn’t be drawn on that today.

But it was a clear warning backed up by the reiteration of Russia‘s readiness to use nuclear weapons.

According to Moscow, it’s a response to Western aggression and provocation; namely, the permission given by NATO allies, including Britain, Germany and the US for Ukraine to use weapons supplied by them to strike inside Russia.

It plays into the narrative the Kremlin has constructed around its war in Ukraine; that the West is the aggressor and Russia is the victim.

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Putin warns of use of nuclear weapons

But shouldn’t that be the other way around? After all, it was Russia who invaded Ukraine – a point I put to Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

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She told me I’d got it “upside-down”.

“We’re not targeting any country of NATO or the EU,” she said. “But we’re hearing and we’re watching the aggressive approach from them.”

You might think this kind of language could bother delegates at a business gathering. Apparently not.

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Image:
Ukrainian troops prepare to fire a 120mm mortar towards Russian troops at an undisclosed location in Donetsk region. Pic: Reuters

As hard as it may be to believe, Brazil’s ambassador to Moscow claimed he hadn’t seen Putin’s comments.

China’s envoy refused to engage entirely. Perhaps that’s no surprise given the accusation from the US that Beijing is fuelling Russia’s war machine by continuing to sell them dual-use goods such as semi-conductors.

Elephant in the room

It wasn’t that long ago Western leaders and investors would flock to the St Petersburg event. This year’s guest list has a very different feel.

The presidents of Zimbabwe and Bolivia are the only visiting heads of states, joined by delegations from all over Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Even the Taliban are here.

Image:
Taliban representatives arrive at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, June 6, 2024.Pic: AP

It’s all part of Russia’s push to create a new world order – making friends and influencing people on a geopolitical scale. Today, it felt like it was working.

There was no mention of the so-called Special Military Operation anywhere. Similarly, there was no talk of these latest warnings from the Kremlin.

The war in Ukraine was like one giant elephant in the room that delegates seemed happy to ignore.

That, and the threats themselves, may well be troubling developments for the West.

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