Vladimir Putin Issues Nuclear Threat Over Ukraine—'This Is Not a Bluff'

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to threaten the use of nuclear weapons during a televised address to the Russian people early on Wednesday morning amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

In the pre-recorded address, Putin said he was willing to respond to what he described as the West's "nuclear blackmail" using his country's own weapons, strongly implying the possibility of nuclear strikes.

He said that high-ranking representatives of NATO countries had raised the possibility of using "weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons—against Russia."

Putin said that he had "lots of weapons to reply" to perceived threats from Western nations, which have imposed crippling sanctions since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. He said that some of them were "more modern" than those of NATO countries.

"If Russia feels its territorial integrity is threatened, we will use all defense methods at our disposal, and this is not a bluff," the Russian president said.

"Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the winds can also turn in their direction," Putin said.

Those comments came in an address where the Russian president announced a partial mobilization of the country's forces. That mobilization will see those in the military reserves called up.

The U.S. and its allies have been providing Ukraine with significant support throughout the war, including weapons such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which Ukraine has used effectively.

Putin said he supports a "partial mobilization, I stress it is partial mobilization" and that Russia was defending a front line more than 1,000km long.

He also said Russia will support referendums due to take place this weekend in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. These will ask voters whether they want to join Russia.

Those regions are currently under Russian control and the results of the referendums are seen as a foregone conclusion, with critics dismissing the votes as a sham.

The move comes amid a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive that has forced Russian troops to retreat rapidly.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has said Ukraine has inflicted a "major operational defeat" on Russian forces, while Ukraine claims to have retaken more than 2,317 square miles of territory from Russia in September.

Sir Tony Brenton, former U.K. ambassador to Russia, described Putin's comments hinting at the use of nuclear weapons as "a very significant step up in rhetoric" in remarks to Sky News on Wednesday morning.

"What Putin has now announced is the mobilization, which he's been refusing to do since the war began and has now accepted the advice of his military and has come back to the nuclear threat in the context of alleged nuclear threats from the West," Brenton said.

"Now, I don't know whether he believes that or not, but it is obviously a very significant step up in rhetoric," he said.

Update 09/21/22 03.38 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include more information, including a quote from Sir Tony Brenton.

Vladimir Putin Speaks in the Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting on the military-industrial complex at the Kremlin, September 20, 2022, in Moscow, Russia. Putin has announced a partial mobilization of Russia's forces. Getty Images

Update 09/21/2022, 12:45 p.m. ET: This article and its headline were updated to reflect further quotes from Vladimir Putin's address.