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Putin lauds Ukraine gains, threatens West in annual speech

February 29, 2024

The Russian president began his address with references to the war in Ukraine and what he claimed was widespread public support for it. He was speaking just weeks before presidential elections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly, in Moscow, Russia, February 29, 2024.
Putin accused the West of trying to draw Russia into an arms raceImage: Evgenia Novozhenina/REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his State of the Nation address on Thursday.

Putin's 19th such annual speech, which was nationally televised and even screened in some cinemas, came less than three weeks before a presidential election he is sure to win.

During his address, he pledged funds to boost the economy and outlined plans to revitalize the country's infrastructure over the next six years.

Putin delivers nuclear warning in annual address

What did Putin say about the war?

Putin began his speech with a series of references to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, or its "special military operation" as he refers to it. 

He said that "we have supported our brothers and sisters and their desire to be with Russia," a reference to the Kremlin's frequent claim that it invaded Ukraine to prevent the persecution of Russian-speakers.

He also alluded to Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, saying that it was the anniversary of what he termed the "Russian Spring." 

The Cinema 5 chain receives a broadcast of President Putin's annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly from Moscow's Gostiny Dvor. Dmitry Rogulin/TASS]
According to Russian news agencies, Putin's speech was screened in some cinemasImage: Dmitry Rogulin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Putin claimed that a majority of the Russian population supported the military action in Ukraine.

He said that Russian troops were advancing in a number of areas, with perhaps the most notable recent example being Ukraine's withdrawal from the city of Avdiivka.

Putin added that core factories, for instance those producing ammunition, had moved to a war footing and were operating 24-hours-a-day over three shifts. 

He also praised businesses and private individuals for their financial or other support for the Russian military. 

At one point, he paused for a minute's silence for fallen Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Chairman of United Russia, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, and Alexander Zhukov (L-R front), First Vice Speaker of the State Duma, anticipate a ceremony for Russia's President Putin to deliver his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly
Television footage showed former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, sitting next to each other and prominently positioned in the audience.Image: Alexander Kazakov/Russian President Press Office/dpa/picture alliance

Putin warns of nuclear war risk

Putin mentioned Finland and Sweden joining NATO in light of the war in Ukraine, and said Russia's western military district would therefore need to be strengthened. Finland has a long land border with Russia.

The president at one point said that NATO countries would risk nuclear war if they were to send troops to Ukraine, a few days after French President Emmanuel Macron had hinted at the possibility, prompting various other Western leaders to speak out against the idea.

"[Western nations] must realize that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory," Putin said. "All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Don't they get that?" 

He also suggested Western politicians recall the fate of historical leaders like Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler and France's Napoleon Bonaparte who unsuccessfully tried to invade Russia. He said the consequences of such an effort now would be "far more tragic," and accused his NATO counterparts of believing war to be "a cartoon." 

Still, Putin said that Russia "is ready for dialogue with the United States of America on issues of strategic stability," a reference to talks regarding nuclear weapons such as the New START process suspended by Russia last February.

Speech ahead of election

The 71-year-old often uses the annual address to send messages to both domestic and international audiences. 

The presidential election scheduled for March 15-17 is expected to focus on domestic issues, including the economy and social policy.

All major opposition politicians have been disqualified from the vote, and Putin looks sure to secure another six-year term. 

This is despite a fired-up opposition spurred on by the death earlier this month of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny at an Arctic penal colony.

The Kremlin had denied any state involvement. Navalny's funeral will be held in Moscow on Friday.

Putin has been either president or prime minister continuously since the turn of the century; during his stint as prime minister term limits for Russian presidents were abolished, facilitating his return to the top job.

Two years into the Ukraine war: Where is it headed?

War in Ukraine and trouble in neighboring Moldova

In the speech last year, the Russian leader announced Russia's suspension of the New START nuclear disarmament treaty due to the war in Ukraine which he blamed on the West.

The Russian invasion is now in its third year, but unlike last year, Russia has had some battlefield success in recent months, including the seizure of the eastern city of Avdiivka.

This coincides with uncertainty over the next US military aid package for Ukraine, which has been stalled in Congress for some time.

Putin already spoke to lawmakers about Ukraine earlier this week, marking the 10th anniversary of the takeover of Crimea's parliament by Russian forces.

Putin was also speaking one day after an appeal by pro-Russian separatists in Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria, for help from Moscow to "protect" Transnistria from mounting Moldovan pressure.

A special congress of the region is understood to have passed a resolution on the issue on Wednesday.

The move by the pro-Russian separatists could further escalate tensions both within Moldova and the Eastern European region. 

msh, lo/wd (dpa, AFP, Reuters)