President Vladimir Putin says Russia will definitely defeat a Ukraine that is in the grip of a new incarnation of Nazism just as it defeated the Nazi Germany in Stalingrad 80 year ago.
The Russian leader made the comments in a fiery speech in Volgograd, known as Stalingrad until 1961, on Thursday, marking the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad against troops of Nazi Germany.
"Unfortunately we see that the ideology of Nazism in its modern form and manifestation again directly threatens the security of our country," Putin told an audience of army officers and members of local patriotic and youth groups.
Putin said he was quite ready to draw on Russia's entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons.
Russia launched what it calls "a special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, over the perceived threat of the ex-Soviet republic joining NATO and to "de-Nazify" Kiev. Since then, the United States and Ukraine's other allies have sent Kiev tens of billions of dollars' worth of weapons, including rocket systems, drones, armored vehicles, tanks, and communication systems.
Western countries have also imposed a slew of economic sanctions on Moscow. The Kremlin has said the sanctions and the Western military assistance will only prolong the war.
Germany, for its part, has already agreed to send 14 of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, as Berlin has also given permission to partner countries to re-export other battle tanks to Kiev.
"Again and again we have to repel the aggression of the collective West. It's incredible but it's a fact: we are again being threatened with German Leopard tanks with crosses on them," Putin said.
Stalingrad was the bloodiest battle of World War Two, during which, the Soviet Red Army, at a cost of over one million casualties, broke the back of German invasion forces in 1942-3. The battle radically changed the course of the war and heralded the victory of the Soviet army over the Nazi troops.
Evoking the spirit of the defenders of Stalingrad, the Russian president said that the World War Two battle had become a symbol of "the indestructible nature of our people."
"Those who draw European countries, including Germany, into a new war with Russia, and ... expect to win a victory over Russia on the battlefield, apparently don't understand that a modern war with Russia will be quite different for them."
"We don't send our tanks to their borders but we have the means to respond, and it won't end with the use of armored vehicles, everyone must understand that," the Russian leader said.
Moscow says Russian forces gain fresh ground in Bakhmut
In a statement on Thursday, Russia's Defense Ministry said Russian troops had managed to defeat Ukrainian forces around the settlement of Vasylivka in Ukraine's Donetsk region, to the north of Bakhmut.
Bakhmut, the administrative center of Bakhmut Raion, has been the focus of intense fighting for months.
Russia annexed the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in September 2022 following referendums, vowing to protect them from any aggression by Ukrainian troops.
Kremlin warns of firm response as West sends arms to Ukraine
Separately on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would make greater use of its response capability as the West accelerates arms deliveries to Kiev. "As new weapons are delivered by the collective West, Russia will make greater use of its potential to respond in the course of the special military operation," he said, responding to a question about an earlier remark by Putin that Moscow's response would go beyond the use of armored vehicles.
Ukrainian president warns of Russian ‘revenge’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday warned that Moscow was increasing the number of its troops to take what he called "revenge" on the West.
He sounded the alarm in Kiev alongside EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who arrived in Kiev on Thursday and said the 27-member of the European Union was seeking to finalize another package of sanctions against Russia by February 24, exactly one year since Russia waged the war.
"Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine, but against a free Europe and the free world," Zelensky said at a joint press conference with the EU chief.
Von der Leyen, for her part, said the existing sanctions were already "eroding" Russia's economy, "throwing it back by a generation." She also estimated that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow virtually 160 million euros every day.
"We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products and by the 24th of February -- exactly one year since the invasion started -- we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place," she said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the EU, in general, and von de Leyen, in particular, had called for Russia to be defeated in a way that its economy would be devastated for decades. "Is this not racism, not Nazism -- not an attempt to solve 'the Russian question.'"
UK says 'not ruling out' sending warplanes to Ukraine
On Thursday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said he did not rule out providing Kiev with fighter jets while cautioning they would not be a "magic wand" in the war.
"On the process of jets, I've been pretty clear. One thing I've learned over the last year is don't rule anything in, don't rule anything out."
Ukraine has demanded that Washington send Kiev American-made F-16 warplanes, but the White House has refused to grant the request. However, other allies, including Poland, have shown themselves more open to the idea.
"I'm very open to examining all sorts of systems, and not just jets, to give Ukraine that assistance," Wallace said, adding that "these things don't always happen overnight. But I can say, we're not putting the Ukrainians at risk."
His comments came just two days after Downing Street appeared to be reluctant to sent fighter jets to Ukraine.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman, Max Blain, in a statement, "The UK's Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets are extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly."
"Given that, we believe it is not practical to send those jets into Ukraine."