Putin commits to boosting Russia's nuclear forces

Russia will soon take delivery of Zircon sea-launched hypersonic missiles, President says

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert dedicated to Russian soldiers in Ukraine on the eve of the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow. Reuters
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Russia will continue to build up its nuclear forces and will begin mass deliveries of Zircon sea-launched hypersonic missiles, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

In an address to mark Thursday's Defender of the Fatherland public holiday, Mr Putin also said Russia would continue equipping its armed forces with advanced equipment.

Two days earlier, he announced that Russia would suspend the New Start treaty, its last remaining arms control agreement with the US that limits each country's arsenal of nuclear warheads.

“As before, we will pay increased attention to strengthening the nuclear triad,” said Mr Putin, referring to nuclear missiles based on land, in the sea and in the air.

“We will continue mass production of air-based hypersonic Kinzhal systems and will start mass supplies of sea-based Zircon hypersonic missiles.”

On Wednesday, Mr Putin made a hotly anticipated appearance on stage at a concert called “Glory to the Defenders of the Fatherland”, held on the eve of the eponymous holiday.

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Waving Russian flags, the crowd cheered as he delivered a short speech saying Russia was fighting for its “historical lands” in Ukraine.

Spectators braved the cold on a clear and crisp winter's day in Moscow, where temperatures plunged to minus 15°C.

The concert included performances of patriotic or military songs and speeches from soldiers.

“We need to support our country, our President, the men who are right now defending our country,” said Uliana, a 47-year-old lawyer, preferring not to give her surname.

“What is happening right now, the consolidation of national unity, reminds us of the Great Patriotic War,” she added, using Russia's term for the Second World War.

One year of the Russia-Ukraine war — in pictures

The Kremlin has frequently drawn parallels between what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine and the war against Nazi Germany, saying the offensive was launched to “denazify” Ukraine.

Nearly a year since Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Kremlin is trying to drum up support for the ongoing fighting, characterising its campaign as a wider conflict against the West.

“Right now, a war of survival is ongoing, aimed at destroying Russia- … The decisive phase of this fight against the West is beginning,” said Ivan Tkachev, a 47-year-old musician attending the rally with his two daughters.

During the concert, children were brought up on stage, introduced by the hosts as young Ukrainians “rescued” by a Russian soldier and brought to safety in Russia during the battle for Mariupol.

Putin: The West is threatening Russia's existence with Ukraine war — video

The port city on the shores of the Sea of Azov was devastated by a long siege and became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Ukraine has accused Russia of kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children from the territories it controls, something Moscow has denied, insisting it organised legal adoptions.

After more than an hour of waiting in the freezing cold, spectators welcomed Mr Putin on stage with chants of “Russia”.

“I told you he'd come!” a man exclaimed to his wife, hugging her.

The Russian leader, wearing a fur-lined coat, addressed the crowd, saying: “I just heard from the top military leadership of the country that a battle is ongoing right now for our historical lands, for our people.”

He also praised Russian servicemen in Ukraine who are “fighting heroically, courageously, bravely — we are proud of them”.

The Russian national anthem played and Mr Putin left the stage.

“Impressive, as always,” said Andrey Moiseyev, an 18-year-old student, who said it was the first time he had seen the President in person.

“It's great for stirring up the patriotic spirit, it shows us the direction to take and we're going there together.”

He added that if he is called up to fight in Ukraine, he will go.

Updated: February 22, 2023, 11:21 PM