MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin hailed new missiles in Russia's military arsenals but emphasized Thursday that the country would only use its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack.
Putin emphasized during an international policy forum in Sochi that Russia's military doctrine doesn't envisage a preventative nuclear strike. He said Moscow only would tap its nuclear arsenal if early warning systems spotted missiles heading toward Russia, in which case "the aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable."
"Only when we become convinced that there is an incoming attack on the territory of Russia, and that happens within seconds, only after that we would launch a retaliatory strike," he said during a panel discussion at the forum.
"It would naturally mean a global catastrophe, but I want to emphasize that we can't be those who initiate it because we don't foresee a preventative strike," Putin said.
"We would be victims of an aggression and would get to heaven as martyrs," while those who initiated the aggression would "just die and not even have time to repent," he added.
The Russian leader also warned that new hypersonic missiles his country developed give it a military edge.
"We have run ahead of the competition. No one has precision hypersonic weapons," he said. "Others are planning to start testing them within the next 1 to 2 years, and we already have them on duty."
In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows the Avangard hypersonic vehicle maneuvering to bypass missile defenses en route to target.
Another new weapon, the Avangard, is set to enter service in the next few months, he said. Earlier this year, Putin said the Avangard has an intercontinental range and can fly in the atmosphere at a speed 20 times the speed of sound, making it capable of piercing any missile defense system.
His blunt talk Thursday comes as Russia-West relations remain frosty over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.
Putin said he still hopes U.S. President Donald Trump will be able to improve the ties between their countries. He thinks Trump wants "some sort of stabilization and improvement of U.S.-Russian ties" and said Moscow is ready for that "at any moment."
Putin said his meeting with Trump in Helsinki in July was positive and they had a "normal, professional dialogue" even though their exchange brought strong criticism from Trump.
At the same time, the Russian president sharply criticized Washington's reliance on sanctions against Russia and others, saying the instrument of punishment "undermines trust in the dollar as a universal payment instrument and the main reserve currency."
"It's a typical mistake made by an empire," Putin said. "An empire always thinks that it's so powerful that it can afford some mistakes and extra costs."
Building on his defiance and boasts, Putin said Russia had nothing to fear given its defense capability and "people ready to defend our sovereignty and independence."
"Not in every country are people so eager to sacrifice their lives for the Motherland," he said.