Russian President and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin meets with the media at his campaign headquarters in Moscow on March 18, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Monday that a direct conflict between Russia and the US-led NATO military alliance would mean the planet was one step away from World War Three but said hardly anyone wanted such a scenario.

Putin has often warned of the risks of nuclear war but says he has never felt the need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron last month said he could not rule out the deployment of ground troops in Ukraine in the future, with many Western countries distancing themselves from that while others, especially in eastern Europe, expressed support.

Asked by Reuters about the Macron remarks and the risks and possibility of a conflict between Russia and NATO, Putin quipped: "everything is possible in the modern world." "It is clear to everyone, that this will be one step away from a full-scale World War Three. I think hardly anyone is interested in this," Putin told reporters after winning the biggest ever landslide in post-Soviet Russian history.

Putin added, though, that NATO military personnel were present already in Ukraine, saying that Russia had picked up both English and French being spoken on the battlefield.

"There is nothing good in this, first of all for them, because they are dying there and in large numbers," he said.

Putin secures another 6-year term
Vladimir Putin secured another six years as Russia's president to step up his war in Ukraine and challenge the West, with the Kremlin claiming record public support for him in a vote whose outcome was pre-determined.

Preliminary results show Putin has 87.3 per cent support with half of votes counted, according to Central Election Commission data shown on state television late Sunday. That far exceeded the incumbent president's previous record of 77 per cent in 2018 elections.

Preliminary turnout was put at 74.2 per cent. That's the highest since Boris Yeltsin became president in 1991 after the Soviet Union's collapse, and well above the 67.5 per cent turnout recorded in 2018. At least six Russian regions claimed turnout was above 90 per cent.

Buffer zone

Ahead of the March 15-17 Russian election, Ukraine stepped up attacks against Russia, shelling border regions and even used proxies to try to pierce Russia's borders.

Asked if he considered it necessary to take Ukraine's Kharkiv region, Putin said if the attacks continued, Russia would create a buffer zone out of more Ukrainian territory to defend Russian territory.

"I do not exclude that, bearing in mind the tragic events taking place today, we will be forced at some point, when we deem it appropriate, to create a certain 'sanitary zone' in the territories today under the Kyiv regime," Putin said.

He declined to give any further details but said such a zone might have to be big enough to preclude foreign made armaments from reaching Russian territory.