In a rare televised address on Wednesday, Putin warned that if Russia’s territorial integrity was threatened, the Kremlin “will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”
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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimatum to the West drastically increases the risk of nuclear conflict, analysts and activists have warned, with world leaders condemning what they describe as “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats.
Speaking va a rare television address on Wednesday, Putin called more forces into the war in Ukraine and warned that if Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened, the Kremlin “will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”
It was widely interpreted as a threat that Putin was ready to use nuclear weapons to escalate the war after a series of Ukrainian successes.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev doubled down on the Kremlin’s nuclear stance on Thursday, saying any weapon in Russia’s arsenal could be used to defend its territory — including strategic nuclear weapons.
They come as pro-Moscow regional leaders in areas of southern and eastern Ukraine announced referendums about joining Russia. Voting is expected to take place in the Russian-controlled regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, supposedly they make up roughly 15% of Ukraine’s territory.
The outcome of the referendums is widely believed to have been predetermined by the Kremlin, prompting the US and its allies to denounce them as “false.”
Political scientists say that the Kremlin may then consider Ukrainian military action against these four areas as an attack against Russia itself.
“Citizens of Russia can be sure that the territorial integrity of our homeland, our independence and freedom will be ensured, I emphasize this again, with all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.
“These statements go beyond Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which only suggests that Russia will use conventional warfare for the first time when the very existence of the state is threatened,” said Andrey Baklitskiy, a senior researcher on weapons of mass destruction and other strategic weapons. United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
“As the person who has the sole decision-making power over Russia’s nuclear weapons, it will have to be taken seriously,” Baklitsky said, adding that Putin’s quote about “territorial integrity” was difficult to pin down as the Kremlin plans to absorb four Ukrainian regions.
“None of this means that Russia would resort to nuclear use. It would be a truly world-changing decision,” Baklitsky said.
“And it is not clear whether such a step would even lead to the desired results [President] Putin… But extending the terms for possible use in the middle of an ongoing war is a huge gamble,” he added. “Without such a gamble, we would all be safer, including Russia.”
US President Joe Biden convicted Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons and called on allied UN leaders to reject Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a speech at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Biden accused the Kremlin of making “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats and said “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
His comments echoed those of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who he told Reuters on Wednesday that the 30-nation Western defense alliance would remain calm and “not engage in the same kind of reckless and dangerous nuclear rhetoric as President Putin.”
Beatrice Fihn, Nobel laureate and executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, called on political leaders to renew efforts to get rid of all nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
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Putin has referred to Russian nuclear weapons at various points in the conflict with Ukraine. Still, there are doubts among Western leaders whether Moscow will resort to deploying weapons of mass destruction.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi he told German media on Wednesday that he did not believe the world would allow Putin to use nuclear weapons.
Beatrice Fihn, a Nobel laureate and executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, told CNBC that Putin’s “incredibly dangerous and irresponsible” threats drastically increase the risk of escalation to nuclear conflict.
“Threats to use nuclear weapons lower the threshold for their use,” Fihn said by email. “The subsequent discussion by politicians and commentators about the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Russia and possible nuclear responses, without at the same time discussing the devastating humanitarian impact of using even so-called ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, erodes the taboo against their use.”
Fihn called on the international community to “unequivocally condemn all nuclear threats” and urged political leaders to renew efforts to get rid of all nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Max Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, described Putin’s nuclear threats as “a very significant announcement”.
“Now the real threat from Putin’s speech was that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, including territory they plan to annex,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”
“This includes not only the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the traditional Donbas, but also all of Zaporozhye and all of Kherson – Ukrainian regions that remain highly contested and where the Russians do not control their entirety.”
“What this means for those territories that are still under Ukrainian control in light of Putin’s threats still remains unsaid,” Hess added.
If Putin were to use a so-called tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, there would be “no turning back” and “no negotiation,” says Timothy Ash, emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.
In such a scenario, Putin “is done with the West forever, and China, India, South Africa, BRICS and the rest of the world that is not involved will probably turn against him,” Ash said. The acronym BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
A weapon of mass destruction, or WMD, “is a deterrent,” Ash said. “Once it is used, its power is actually exposed.