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Putin, at Economic Forum, Again Talks About Nuclear War

U.S.Putin, at Economic Forum, Again Talks About Nuclear War

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Friday that even the combined arsenals of Europe and the United States would be no match for Russia’s in a nuclear confrontation, but that “I hope this is never going to happen.”

He reasoned that Moscow’s supremacy in the Ukraine war has made that grim scenario unlikely.

“The use is possible in an exceptional case — in the event of a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” Mr. Putin told a large audience of the Russian elite and foreign dignitaries gathered for the main session of the four-day St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “I don’t think that such a case has come.”

As Mr. Putin spoke, President Biden was in Europe to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, leading eventually to the defeat of Nazi Germany. The Russian assault on Ukraine meant the stakes were equally high today, Mr. Biden said, suggesting that the voices of the fallen “are summoning us” to defend Western values.

At the annual gathering in St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin invariably presents a long, glowing assessment of Russia’s domestic and foreign affairs, and this year was no exception. The country’s economy was growing despite a battery of Western sanctions, he said, and Russia was fostering an alternative to the American-dominated global financial order as Moscow’s armed forces were prevailing on the battlefield.

“Mr. Putin is a great master at selling optimism, and this is a whole strategy — in Russia today, optimism is the official religion and mandatory state ideology,” said Kirill Rogov, a former Russian government adviser who now leads Re: Russia, a Vienna-based policy research organization. Many of the positive economic indicators are driven by massive government spending on defense industries, he noted.

Given the large foreign presence at the forum, Mr. Putin often uses a more measured tone than when he is addressing a strictly domestic audience. The hawkish moderator, Sergei Karaganov, a prominent political scientist, repeatedly pressed Mr. Putin to agree that the nuclear option was the best way to win the war, that Russia should hold “a nuclear pistol to the temple” of the West.

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