MOSCOW — The world is facing a rising threat of a nuclear war because of the U.S. pullout from arms control treaties and its destabilizing military plans, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday

Speaking at his annual news conference, Putin warned that “it could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet.”

The Russian leader added that even though a nuclear conflict now seems impossible to most, the danger is close and real.

“We are witnessing the breakup of the arms control system,” he said.

He pointed to Washington’s intention to walk away from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and its reluctance to negotiate the extension of the 2010 New START agreement. U.S. officials say the withdrawal from the INF was prompted by Russian violations of the treaty, but Moscow vehemently denies any breaches.

“We will have to ensure our security,” Putin said during the news conference that lasted nearly four hours. “And they shouldn’t squeak later about us gaining unilateral advantages. We aren’t seeking advantages, we are trying to preserve the balance and ensure our security.”

The Russian leader also scoffed at Western allegations that he is reaching for global domination, rejecting them as part of a smear campaign driven by domestic policy.

“As for ruling the world, we know where the headquarters trying to do that are located, and the place isn’t Moscow,” he said, noting that the Pentagon’s annual budget of over $700 billion dwarfs Russia’s defense spending of $46 billion.

He also dismissed claims that Russia is interfering abroad, from a nerve agent poisoning in Britain to an alleged effort to infiltrate the U.S. National Rifle Association, charging that those accusations are part of U.S.-led efforts to paint Russia as a bugaboo to strengthen the Western allies’ unity.

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