Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the risk of nuclear conflict was rising but maintained his government had not “gone mad” and would not deploy its nuclear weapons first.

Putin boasted that Russia’s nuclear arsenal was “more advanced and state-of-the-art than what any other nuclear power has” but insisted his nation would only use it if it was attacked.

He made the comments at Russia’s annual human rights council meeting on Wednesday, where he also said the Ukraine war could be a “lengthy process”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted his country will not use nuclear weapons first. (AP)

“About the threat of nuclear war … such a threat is growing,” Putin said, adding that it was “a sin to hide it”.

Amid Russian military failures during the nine-month long Ukraine war, the Kremlin’s capacity to deploy nuclear weapons has come under close scrutiny.

But Putin rejected Western criticism that his previous nuclear weapons comments amounted to sabre-rattling, claiming they were “not a factor provoking an escalation of conflicts, but a factor of deterrence”.

“We haven’t gone mad. We are fully aware of what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said.

He added, without elaborating: “We have them, and they are more advanced and state-of-the-art than what any other nuclear power has.”

Russia has an arsenal of nuclear weapons that can be launched from land, sea and air. (AP)

“We’re not going to run around the world brandishing this weapon like a razor.”

In his televised remarks, Putin didn’t address Russia’s battlefield setbacks or its attempts to cement control over the seized regions but acknowledged problems with supplies, treatment of wounded soldiers and limited desertions.

But he admitted that his “special military operation” in Ukraine is taking longer than expected but said it has succeeded in seizing new territory.

“Of course, it could be a lengthy process,” Putin said of war that began with Russia’s invasion on February 24 and has displaced millions from their homes, and killed and wounded tens of thousands.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Ukraine war could be a “lengthy process”. Photo: Mick Krever/CNN. (Mick Krever/CNN)

Despite its length, he showed no signs of letting up, vowing to “consistently fight for our interests” and to “protect ourselves using all means available”.

He reiterated his claim that he had no choice but to send in troops, saying that for years, the West responded to Russia’s security demands with “only spit in the face”.

In brazen drone attacks, two strategic Russian air bases more than 500km from the Ukraine border were struck Monday. Moscow blamed Ukraine, which didn’t claim responsibility.

Putin visits bridge damaged during bomb attack

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