The Russian leader’s remarks come more than seven months after he ordered the “special military operation” on Ukraine in late February. In the months leading up to the invasion, Ukraine’s relationship with NATO became a point of contention between the Eastern European neighbors, with Russia underscoring demands that Ukraine not grow too close to the West or formerly join NATO.
The threat also comes as Ukraine formerly makes its bid to join NATO, but Western leaders, including President Joe Biden, have shot down the possibility of admission, citing corruption concerns. Ukraine joining the organization could result in drawing a NATO response to the Russia-Ukraine war, which Russian officials have said would end in “World War III.”
Putin, during a press conference on Friday, doubled down on anti-NATO rhetoric, describing any NATO military clash as a “dangerous step.”
“In any case, putting troops into direct contact, direct conflict, with the Russian army is a very dangerous step, which might lead to a global catastrophe. I hope that those who speak about it have enough good sense not to take that step,” he said.
Putin Threat Comes as Ukraine Hopes for Accelerated NATO Membership
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced plans to request his country’s NATO bid to be accelerated in late September, after Russia illegitimately annexed Ukrainian territories. However, NATO remains unlikely to accept its membership. Ukraine becoming a member of NATO would require its fellow members to defend it against Russia—essentially triggering a war between the alliance and Russia that would have wide-reaching consequences.
Currently, many NATO states are providing military aid to the country. The United States has provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which are credited with allowing Ukraine to launch its counteroffensives that saw the country take back thousands of square miles of Russia-occupied territory.
However, NATO is not sending troops to fight for Ukraine, thus avoiding a direct military conflict. NATO membership requires the unanimous approval of all 30 member nations, a challenging feat for Ukraine to overcome.
Alexander Venediktov, the deputy secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, said on Thursday that Ukraine joining NATO would “mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War III.”
“The suicidal nature of this step [to admit Ukraine to NATO] is understood by the NATO members themselves,” he said.
Since the conflict began, NATO has pledged to admit two new member states, Sweden and Finland. Finland’s admission could allow NATO to relocate nuclear weapons near Russia’s border—and 600 miles from the Kremlin. NATO membership would bolster its defense, and the international community hopes it would deter any Russian attacks against the two nations.
NATO Faces Mounting Nuclear Concerns
NATO, and the larger international community, continues to face rising concerns that Russia could resort to using nuclear weapons if they are facing defeat in Ukraine. Putin has ramped up his language surrounding nuclear weapons, issuing threats of nuclear weapon use amid mounting losses in Ukraine.
NATO is set to start drills to test the alliance’s nuclear deterrent capabilities. The test, which was scheduled before Russia announced its invasion, will take place hundreds of miles away from Russian borders, but has drawn some rebuke from the international community.
“Following Russia’s egregious nuclear threats in the context of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, these exercises by NATO do nothing to calm fears about the potential use of nuclear weapons,” Daniel Högsta, campaigns coordinator for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, previously told Newsweek.
Newsweek reached out to NATO for comment.