Vladimir Putin has appeared to make a joke about nuclear war after being asked about comments he made in 2018 suggesting that Russians would 'go to heaven as martyrs' while everyone else would 'just drop dead'.
The Russian President's light-hearted response was shared on Twitter by the BBC's Francis Scarr, who tweeted: "There aren't many things less funny than Vladimir Putin attempting to joke about nuclear war."
Putin was appearing at the annual Valdai Discussion Club, where he was asked about comments he made at the same venue in 2018, in which he said Russia was ready to "annihilate" any attacker who would use nuclear weapons against it, but would never strike first.
At the time he said: "An aggressor should know that vengeance is inevitable, that he will be annihilated, and we would be the victims of the aggression. We will go to heaven as martyrs, and they will just drop dead. They will not even have time to repent for this."
The video clip showed an interviewer saying to Putin: "We became a little nervous recalling your comments at this very event four years ago, that 'we'll all end up in paradise'. We're not in a hurry are we?"
Putin pauses - apparently for comic effect - sparking laughter from the audience, and prompting the interviewer to add: "You're thinking. That in itself is somehow alarming."
Putin then adds: "I did that on purpose to alarm you", chuckling in amusement before adding: "The effect has been achieved".
His appearance at the event in Moscow came a day after a huge military exercise on Wednesday that Russia said it was using to simulate "delivering a massive nuclear strike" in response to an enemy attack.
The annual exercise - involving nuclear submarines, strategic bombers and ballistic missiles - following unfounded allegations by the Kremlin that Ukraine is planning to use a "dirty bomb" to escalate the situation.
Watch: Putin shows no regrets as war rages in Ukraine
The West has warned such an attack would likely to have been launched by Russia as a pre-text to justify its own escalation.
Putin's willingness to refer to nuclear weapons was also questioned this week by US President Joe Biden, who called the Russian president's frequent references "very dangerous".
In an interview with Nexstar, Biden said: "If he has no intention, why does he keep talking about it? Why does he talk about the ability to use a tactical nuclear weapon? He’s been very dangerous in how he’s approached this. He can end this all, get out of Ukraine."
During his three-and-a-half hour appearance at the Valdai Discussion Club - reportedly one of his longest public appearances since he mobilised troops into Ukraine in February - Putin said he had no regrets about what he dubbed the "special operation", adding: "The historical period of the West's undivided dominance over world affairs is coming to an end".
During his session, titled: "A Post-Hegemonic World: Justice and Security for Everyone", he added: "We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War Two."
He repeated the suggestion that Ukraine could detonate a "dirty bomb" laced with radioactive material to frame Moscow - an allegation that has been denied by Kyiv and dismissed as having no evidence to back it up.