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Putin says ‘theft’ of Russian assets in G7 deal ‘will not go unpunished,’ references nuclear arsenal

During a speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that “theft” of Russian assets and foreign exchange reserves “will not go unpunished,” and that attempting to “inflict a strategic defeat on Russia,” with its massive nuclear arsenal, “can result in tragedy.”

“Western politicians… either do not understand the scale of the threat that they create or are simply obsessed with their impunity and their exclusivity.”

Watch:

Here’s a transcript of the AP’s translation seen in the video above:

“Western countries have now frozen a part of Russian assets and foreign exchange reserves, and are now thinking about some kind legal basis in order to completely appropriate them. But, despite all of the scheming, theft will remain theft and will not go unpunished.” (…) “Calls to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia, which has the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, demonstrate the extreme adventurism of Western politicians. They either do not understand the scale of the threat that they create or are simply obsessed with their impunity and their exclusivity. Both of these can result in tragedy.”

Putin’s comments come one day after G7 leaders (per Reuters) “agreed on an outline deal to provide $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from Russian sovereign assets frozen after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in 2022.”

“Now it is becoming obvious to all countries, companies (and) sovereign funds that their assets and reserves are far from safe in both the legal and economic sense of the word,” Putin is quoted as saying in an translation published by Reuters.

“Anyone could be next in line for expropriation by the U.S. and the West.”

Preparedness and “Saber-rattling”

Here’s brief, abridged timeline of some of Russia’s statements and actions in recent months related to the question of nuclear escalation:

March 13: Asked about Russia’s preparedness for a potential nuclear war, Putin reportedly says, “From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready,” but also opines that “there are enough specialists in the field of Russian-American relations and in the field of strategic restraint” in the US. “Therefore, I don’t think that here everything is rushing to it (nuclear confrontation).”

May 6: Russia announces plans to conduct nuclear drills in response to what it calls “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials.”

May 22: Russia begins the previously-announced drills in the Southern Military District. They involve “practical training in the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

June 5: During a meeting with international news agencies organized by TASS, Putin is asked by Reuters’ global foreign policy editor Samia Nakhoul: “What would trigger a nuclear war, and how close are we to that risk?”

“You know, we’re always being accused of rattling some sort of nuclear saber,” Putin said. “Was it me who voices the issue of possible use of nuclear weapons? You lead me to this topic and say that I was rattling a nuclear saber after that.”

In a series of additional clips from the same June 5 meeting (seen in the video above) — which appear to be part of the same exchange with Nakhoul — Putin is quoted as saying:

It’s a very tough topic. The United States is the only country that used nuclear weapons during the Second World War. Hiroshima, Nagasaki [got hit by] 20 kilotons. Our tactical nuclear weaponry is 70-75 kilotons. It’s just tactical nuclear weapons. Let’s not push it. Not only using it, but threatening to use it.

(…)

For some reason, the West believes that Russia will never use them [nuclear weapons]. We have a nuclear doctrine; look what it says. If someone’s actions threaten our sovereignty and territorial integrity, we consider it possible for us to use all means at our disposal. This should not be taken lightly, superficially but professionally.

(…)

There is no need to form an image of an enemy out of Russia — you’re only harming yourselves by doing that. They invented that Russia wants to attack NATO — are they out of their minds? Wooden-headed like this table. Who invented that? It’s nonsense, rubbish. It would be rubbish if it wasn’t a plan – just to trick their own population by saying “Help! Russia is going to attack soon, we must arm ourselves urgently, send weapons to Ukraine!” In reality, it is done to preserve their own imperial standing and might, that’s what it’s done for.

June 6: Cuban officials say that four Russian warships, including a nuclear-powered submarine, will arrive in Havana the following week, adding that none of them will carry any nuclear weapons, and that their presence “does not represent a threat to the region.” NBC News reports that “U.S. officials said that the Russian military presence was notable but not concerning.”

June 12: The Russian fleet arrives in Cuba, where it’s “greeted by 21 cannon salutes.” “US officials say this appears intended by Vladimir Putin as a high-profile response to the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine,” reports CBS News:

“Russian ships have occasionally docked in Havana since 2008, when a group of Russian vessels entered Cuban waters in what state media described as the first such visit in almost two decades,” reports NBC News. “In 2015, a reconnaissance and communications ship arrived unannounced in Havana a day before the start of discussions between U.S. and Cuban officials on the reopening of diplomatic relations.”

Update: (6/16/24) Journalist Glenn Greenwald gave his take on this situation on his show System Update, saying in part:

When the US and Russia start playing games with nuclear submarines off the coast of Cuba, that ought to be very alarming to anyone who has even a minimal understanding of Cold War history. Because again — while I wouldn’t equate this to or even put it in the same category yet as the Cuban Missile Crisis — the Cuban Missile Crisis came very close to blowing up the entire world. And although it included the basing of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba at the request of the Cuban government, many of the factors that almost led to an unintended or miscommunication-based nuclear exchange involved Russian submarines in the vicinity of US submarines. It’s an incredibly dangerous game to be playing. And it’s been so predictable from the start that things like this would happen. And there’s no explanation about what justifies taking on a risk like this.

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Image: Kremlin.ru (CC BY 4.0) and European Union (CC BY 4.0). Modified from the originals.
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