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Putin warns that Russia could provide long-range weapons to others to strike Western targets

Germany joined the United States recently in authorizing Ukraine to hit some targets on Russian soil with the long-range weapons they are supplying to Kyiv.

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin warned Germany on Wednesday that the use of its weapons by Ukraine to strike inside Russia would mark a “dangerous step,” and he said Moscow could, in turn, provide long-range arms to others to strike Western targets.

Such action by the West will further undermine international security and could lead to “very serious problems,” he said, speaking to senior news leaders of international news agencies, including The Associated Press.

“That would mark their direct involvement in the war against the Russian Federation, and we reserve the right to act the same way,” Putin added.

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Because using such Western weapons involves military personnel of those countries controlling the missiles and selecting targets, Putin said Moscow could take “asymmetrical” steps elsewhere in the world.

“If they consider it possible to deliver such weapons to the combat zone to launch strikes on our territory and create problems for us, why don’t we have the right to supply weapons of the same type to some regions of the world where they can be used to launch strikes on sensitive facilities of the countries that do it to Russia?" he said.

"We will think about it,” he told the journalists on the sidelines of the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Germany joined the United States recently in authorizing Ukraine to hit some targets on Russian soil with the long-range weapons they are supplying to Kyiv. The deliveries of German tanks to Ukraine came as a shock to many in Russia, he said.

“Now if they use missiles to strike facilities on the Russian territory, it will completely ruin Russian-German relations,” he said.

On Wednesday, a Western official and a U.S. senator said Ukraine has used U.S. weapons to strike inside Russia under newly approved guidance from President Joe Biden. It allows American arms to be used for the limited purpose of defending Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the sensitive matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Taking questions from international journalists for the first time since his inauguration last month to a fifth term, Putin also said nothing will change in terms of Russia-U.S. relations regardless of whether Biden or Donald Trump wins the American presidential election in November.

“We will work with any president the American people elect,” Putin said.

“I say absolutely sincerely, I wouldn’t say that we believe that after the election something will change on the Russian track in the American politics,” he added. “We don’t think so. We think nothing that serious will happen.”

Putin also said Trump’s felony conviction at his hush money trial last week was the result of "the use of the court system as part of the internal political struggle.”

The Russian leader faced questions on various topics, although the more than two years of fighting in Ukraine dominated the session.

Putin claimed the West had opportunities to end the fighting in Ukraine but did not act on them, citing a letter he once supposedly wrote to Biden that said hostilities could end in two or three months if Washington stopped supplying Kyiv with weapons.

Asked about Russian military losses, Putin said that no country would reveal that information during hostilities but claimed without providing details that Ukraine's casualties are five times greater than Russia’s.

He also said Ukraine has more than 1,300 Russian troops in captivity, while more than 6,400 Ukrainian soldiers are being held in Russia.

The claims could not be independently verified.

On other topics, Putin said the U.S. is “taking energetic steps” to secure the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, an American jailed over a year ago while on a reporting trip and charged with espionage. Gershkovich, his employer and the U.S. have denied the allegations, and Washington has declared him to be wrongfully detained.

Putin said that any such releases “aren’t decided via mass media” but through a “discreet, calm and professional approach.”

“And they certainly should be decided only on the basis of reciprocity,” he added, an allusion to a potential prisoner swap.

Putin has used the St. Petersburg forum as a showcase for touting Russia’s development and seeking investors. While meetings with journalists were part of previous sessions, he has not taken questions from Western journalists at the St. Petersburg event since sending troops to Ukraine.

Last year, journalists from countries that Russia regards as unfriendly — including the U.S., the U.K. and the European Union — were not invited, and Western officials and investors also steered clear of the session after wide-ranging sanctions were imposed on Moscow over Ukraine.

By JAMES JORDAN and HARRIET MORRIS Associated Press

Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed.

Categories / International, Politics

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