Putin says nuclear forces 'always' on alert as Ukraine war rages on

Putin says nuclear forces 'always' on alert as Ukraine war rages on

Putin says nuclear forces always on alert as Ukraine war rages on

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Thursday that his nuclear forces were "always" on alert and that Russia would not tolerate any threats from the West.

In a defiant address on Red Square before thousands of soldiers dressed in ceremonial attire, Putin heaped praise on his army fighting in Ukraine and accused "Western elites" of fomenting conflicts around the world.

"Russia will do everything to prevent a global clash, but at the same time we will not allow anyone to threaten us. Our strategic forces are always on alert," Putin said, addressing the Victory Day parade.

"Dear friends, Russia is now going through a difficult, crucial period. The fate of the Motherland, its future depends on each of us," he said.

The May 9 parade marks the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and has become Russia's most important public holiday as Putin puts the country firmly on a combat footing.

The Russian president has repeatedly framed the current fight against Ukraine as an existential battle against "Nazism".

Putin has also upped his nuclear rhetoric. Earlier this week, he ordered the Russian military to hold nuclear weapons drills involving the navy and troops based near Ukraine.

Last year Russia ditched its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and pulled out of a key arms reduction agreement with the United States.

  Country leaders in Moscow

The Victory Day parade is held on Red Square, featuring columns of Russian military equipment, including advanced missiles and air defence systems, as well as thousands of military personnel.

Russia often invites representatives from countries it deems "friendly" to the event, though attendance had dwindled even before it sent troops into Ukraine in early 2022 amid a stand-off with the West.

Eight world leaders were scheduled to attend Thursday's parade, Russian state-media reported this week, citing a Kremlin aide.

They are the heads of five ex-Soviet countries — Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — as well as the leaders of Cuba, Laos and Guinea-Bissau.

In a high-profile snub, Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signalled he would not attend amid a spat between the two allies, even though he was in Moscow on Wednesday evening for a regional summit.

The Kremlin scheduled a summit of leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union — a regional bloc of some ex-Soviet states — the day before the parade.

Putin 's Victory Day address comes as his troops make advances in Ukraine and just after he took oath for an unprecedented fifth term.

The 71-year-old Kremlin chief has ruled Russia since the turn of the century, securing a fresh six-year mandate in March after winning presidential elections devoid of all opposition.

Russia's army held off a much-hyped Ukrainian counter-offensive last year, and it has since made gains on the front lines as Kiev struggles with ammunition and manpower shortages.

Thursday's festivities come two days after Putin vowed at a lavish inauguration to deliver "victory" to Russians.

"We are a united and great nation, and together we will overcome all obstacles, realise everything we have planned, and together, we will win."

War rages on

Eight people were injured in overnight Ukrainian attacks in and around the western Russian city of Belgorod, officials and the army said on Thursday.

Regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said several apartment blocks and homes were damaged.

"According to preliminary information, eight people were injured: seven adults and one child."

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on Russian territory of late, targeting energy sites in particular.

Russia's defense ministry, meanwhile, said Belgorod was attacked by several Ukrainian RM-70 Vampire multiple rocket launchers overnight, adding that 15 rockets and a drone had been downed.

 The Russian army said an overnight Ukrainian drone attack struck a fuel depot in the village of Yurovka in the Krasnodar region near the Crimean peninsula, a Ukrainian region annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Previous day, army said that its forces had captured two more frontline villages in Ukraine, including in the northeast Kharkiv region from where it was forced to retreat in 2022.

Russian army units "liberated the village of Kyslivka in the Kharkiv region" and Novokalynove in the eastern Donetsk region, the defense ministry stated.

Kyslivka is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the embattled Ukrainian stronghold of Kupiansk, while Novokalynove is about 10 kilometers north of Avdiivka, captured by Moscow in February.

Moscow has notched up a number of territorial gains since seizing Avdiivka as it presses an advantage in manpower and ammunition on the battlefield.

Kiev says the arrival of long-delayed U.S. military supplies will help it stabilise the situation on the front lines.

Ukrainian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a controversial bill that — if signed by Zelensky — will allow prisoners to fight, the latest move to try to boost the ranks of its stretched army.