Putin Issues Warning of ‘Full-Scale World War III’ in Post-Election Speech
Putin Issues Warning of ‘Full-Scale World War III’ in Post-Election Speech

By Jack Phillips

Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 18 warned that the Ukraine-Russia conflict could morph into a “full-scale” war with NATO that could spark World War III.  He made the remarks shortly after securing another six-year term in office.

Mr. Putin said he would continue the conflict even if NATO gets involved.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently asserted that he believes sending troops to Ukraine could be a realistic prospect should the war persist.

“I think anything is possible in today’s world and it’s clear to everyone that this would be one step from a full-scale World War III,” Mr. Putin said, blaming the West for providing military aid to Kyiv.

The Russian president also said he believes that NATO personnel are already inside Ukraine and engaged in combat, claiming that Russian intelligence has spotted French and English being spoken during fighting.

“There is nothing good in this, first of all for them, because they are dying there and in large numbers,” he said, according to reports.

“It seems that France could play a role. All is not lost yet. I’ve been saying it over and over again and I’ll say it again. We are for peace talks, but not just because the enemy is running out of bullets,” he said.

The comments about a Third World War come as Mr. Putin and other top Russian officials repeatedly have warned that the Ukraine conflict could turn into a nuclear war. Days after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia placed its nuclear forces on a higher alert, sparking concerns from U.S. officials at the time.

This past week, the Russian leader again warned the West that Moscow is “of course, ready” for a nuclear conflict. He said that if the United States deploys troops in Ukraine, it would significantly escalate tensions.

Also in his speech, which was given to crowds at Moscow’s Red Square, Mr. Putin said that Crimea—which is internationally recognized as a part of Ukraine—would always be part of Russia.

In 2014, Russian forces invaded the Crimean Peninsula before annexing it in the immediate aftermath of Ukrainian mass protests that led to the ouster of a former Ukrainian president.

“They have never separated themselves from Russia,” Mr. Putin said of the peninsula located in the Black Sea. “And this is exactly what made it possible for Crimea to return to our common family.”

Ahead of the Russian election that ended on March 17, Ukraine stepped up attacks against Russia, shelling border regions and even using proxies to try to pierce Russia’s borders.

Asked if he considered it necessary to take Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Mr. Putin said that if the attacks continued, Russia would create a buffer zone out of more Ukrainian territory to defend Russia.

“I do not exclude that, bearing in mind the tragic events taking place today, we will be forced at some point, when we deem it appropriate, to create a certain ’sanitary zone’ in the territories today under the Kyiv regime,” Mr. Putin said.

He declined to give any further details but said such a zone might have to be big enough to preclude foreign-made armaments from reaching Russian territory.

Election Criticized

After early results showed that Mr. Putin would win with more than 87 percent of the vote, the White House and other Western countries said the elections were a sham because all the opposition candidates were either dead, jailed, or prevented from running.

Notably, a key Russian opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, died in a Russian prison earlier this year.

“The elections are obviously not free nor fair,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told news outlets on March 17, adding that political opponents have been imprisoned while others were prevented from running.

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office blasted Russia for having held elections in “Ukrainian territory,” referring to the regions of the Donbas that, in part, sparked the Ukraine–Russia conflict in 2022.

“By illegally holding elections on Ukrainian territory, Russia demonstrates that it is not interested in finding a path to peace. The UK will continue to provide humanitarian, economic, and military aid to Ukrainians defending their democracy,” the UK spokesperson said.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry echoed those claims, saying that the election should not have been held in “occupied territories of Ukraine” and is “another breach of international law.”

But Mr. Putin dismissed the criticism, saying that the U.S. elections in 2020 were not held fairly.

“The whole world is laughing at what is happening there,” he said, referring to the United States. “It is just a catastrophe—it is not democracy—what on earth is it?”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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