Putin rejected Western criticism that his previous nuclear weapons comments amounted to saber-rattling, claiming they were “not a factor provoking an escalation of conflicts, but a factor of deterrence.”
“We haven’t gone mad. We are fully aware of what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said. He added, without elaborating: “We have them, and they are more advanced and state-of-the-art than what any other nuclear power has.”
In his televised remarks, the Russian leader didn’t address Russia’s battlefield setbacks or its attempts to cement control over the seized regions but acknowledged problems with supplies, treatment of wounded soldiers and limited desertions.
Russian troops have withdrawn not only from the Kyiv area and around the country’s largest city, Kharkiv, but from a large part of the Kherson region. Another problem for Putin are attacks this week against air force bases deep inside Russia. He put much of the country, especially border areas, on security alert recently, and fresh signs emerged Wednesday that Russian officials are strengthening border defensive positions.
In the Kursk region bordering Ukraine, the governor posted photos of new concrete anti-tank barriers — known as “dragon’s teeth” — in open fields. On Tuesday, the governor had said a fire broke out at an airport in the region after a drone strike. In neighboring Belgorod, workers were expanding anti-tank barriers and officials were organizing “self-defense units.” Belgorod has seen numerous fires and explosions, apparently from cross-border attacks, and its governor reported Wednesday that Russia’s air defenses have shot down incoming rockets.
In brazen drone attacks, two strategic Russian air bases more than 300 miles from the Ukraine border were struck Monday. Moscow blamed Ukraine, which didn’t claim responsibility.
Moscow responded with strikes by artillery, multiple rocket launchers, missiles, tanks and mortars at residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, worsening damage to the power grid. Private Ukrainian power utility Ukrenergo said temperatures in eastern areas where it was making repairs had dropped to as low as minus 17 degrees Celsius (near zero Fahrenheit).
At his meeting, Putin discussed the mobilization of 300,000 reservists that he ordered in September to bolster forces in Ukraine. He said only about 150,000 have been deployed so far to combat zones and the rest are still undergoing training. Addressing speculation that the Kremlin could be preparing another mobilization, Putin said: “There is no need for the Defense Ministry and the country to do that.”