Vladimir Putin swore on Thursday to have something to "respond" to Westerners delivering weapons to Ukraine, a threat that comes amid speculation about a new Russian military escalation.
Speaking during the ceremonies for the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory in Stalingrad, the Russian president drew a new parallel between Russia's offensive against its neighbor and the Second World War.
For Mr Putin, the conflict in Ukraine is part of the legacy of the USSR's triumph over Hitler. He accused Ukrainian officials of being "neo-Nazis" orchestrating the "genocide" of Russian-speaking populations.
On Thursday, he felt history was repeating itself, with the supply of German tanks to Ukraine to fight Russia.
"It's unbelievable, but German Leopard tanks are threatening us again," insisted Mr. Putin, who was speaking from Volgograd (ex-Stalingrad, south-west), before adding: "we have something to answer and it will not be limited to armored vehicles".
In the process, his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov specified that Russia would use all its potential to respond to Western arms deliveries. Last fall, Mr. Putin made similar remarks, interpreted as an allusion to nuclear weapons.
"When new weapons supplied by the collective West appear, Russia will make full use of its existing potential to respond," Peskov said.
After long prevarication for fear of provoking an escalation of the conflict, the West finally recently agreed to send modern tanks to Ukraine, German-designed Leopards, American Abrams and British Challengers.
But kyiv has not yet obtained the high-precision missiles with a range of more than 100 km that the army says it needs to hit Russian logistics lines.
Many observers believe that both kyiv and Moscow are planning new offensives for the end of winter and spring.
After a series of humiliating setbacks in the fall, the Kremlin mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists and stepped up its ground attacks, particularly in the east.
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky followed in the footsteps of his Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, declaring that Russia was planning a new major attack, as February 24, the first anniversary of the outbreak of the Russian assault.
"Russia is concentrating its forces, we all know that. It wants revenge not only on Ukraine but also on free Europe," he said during a press conference. with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
His defense minister noted on Wednesday that Moscow was preparing "very seriously" to "try something around February 24".
Russian forces have had some success in recent weeks on the battlefield around Bakhmout, an eastern city they have been trying to capture since the summer, reducing it to rubble.
"If we had electricity, everything would be easier, we could heat ourselves, cook," one of its residents, Natalia Shevchenko, 75, told AFP.
"The worst part is that there is no (telephone) network. I cannot call my family," she continues.
Nevertheless, Natalia remains, even though the near-permanent bombardments force her to live underground in a cellar "like a mole".
In kyiv, Ursula von der Leyen once again promised Europe's unwavering support for Ukraine and said she was working on additional sanctions against Russia for February 24.
She did not give details of her intentions for this tenth package but assured that Russia should "pay for the destruction it has caused". Mr Zelensky called on the Europeans to do "faster".
Von der Leyen said the punitive measures taken over the past year have already set back the Russian economy "a generation", noting that capping the price of Russian oil exports at $60 a barrel was costing Moscow $160 million. euros per day.
Friday, European and Ukrainian officials must, during a summit in kyiv, also discuss the process of Ukraine's accession to the EU, a difficult procedure that kyiv wants to accelerate.
"Every step towards greater integration of Ukraine into the EU is a source of inspiration for our people", pleaded Mr. Zelensky.
Earlier, the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov had taunted Ursula von der Leyen, accusing her of wanting to destroy her country and comparing her to the Nazis.
According to him, the President of the European Commission wants a defeat of Russia "such that it does not recover for decades".
"Isn't this racism, Nazism and an attempt to settle the Russian question?" he asked, comparing the situation to "the final solution of the Jewish question", in other words the organized Holocaust by the Nazis.
02/02/2023 17:44:19 - Moscow (AFP) - © 2023 AFP