Responding to a worried viewer, Putin excoriated the US’s decision to withdraw from the Soviet-era anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002.
In a mammoth four-and-half-hour TV call-in show, during which he touched on a range of subjects from rising petrol prices to the upcoming World Cup and his successor, the Russian president accused the US of upending the global nuclear power balance.
“The fear of mutually assured destruction has always restrained and forced military powers to respect each other,” he said. “The exit of the United States from the missile defence treaty was an attempt to ruin this parity, but our efforts in the development of new weapons will preserve this parity.”
The thinly veiled threat aimed at the West follows a huge show of military force at this year’s Victory Day parade in Red Square, during which the latest Russian military hardware was unveiled to great fanfare.
On the subject of Western-imposed sanctions which followed the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin responded bullishly, saying: “It is clear to us that we have to defend our interests and to do so consistently, not boorishly or rudely, in both the sphere of the economy and of defence.”
Asked whether “non-stop” sanctions could lead to World War 3, Putin quoted Albert Einstein: “I know not with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.”
He added that any country’s interests should not be protected “through confrontation”.
Despite the warnings of a third great global conflict, Business Insider says “perhaps more than any other country, Russia has the nuclear capability to end the world”.
With about 7,000 nuclear weapons making up the world’s most diverse and destructive nuclear arsenal, “Putin could unilaterally decide to embark on a civilisation-ending war”, says the news site.
During his annual state of the union address earlier this year, Putin boasted of his country’s nuclear capabilities and seemed to confirm the existence of a Russian doomsday device, that could render large tranches of the world uninhabitable for decades.