The Russian President had previously talked about using nuclear weapons against nations that according to him are a threat to Russia. In a televised statement in February, he said: “No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.”
He later said in a televised meeting with the Kremlin’s defence chiefs that “officials in leading NATO countries have allowed themselves to make aggressive comments about our country, therefore I hereby order the Minister of Defense and the chief of the General Staff to place the Russian Army Deterrence Force on combat alert”.
During an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Putin’s chief spokesperson Dmitry Peskov repeatedly refused to rule out Russia using nuclear weapons against what Moscow saw as an “existential threat”.
When asked under what conditions Putin would use Russia’s nuclear capability, Peskov replied, “if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be.”
Asked about Ukraine and what the Russian President has achieved out of it, Mr Peskov said to CNN: “Well, first of all, not yet. He hasn’t achieved yet.”
The spokesman also claimed that the “special military operation”, which is the Kremlin’s questionable justification for Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, was “going on strictly in accordance with the plans and the purposes that were established beforehand”.
Meanwhile, the Russian advance continues to stall, according to Western intelligence agencies, as Putin’s troops take up defensive positions in their effort to encircle large Ukrainian cities
Around 100,000 residents of Mariupol remain trapped in the strategic southern port city that Russia has focused its efforts on capturing
Around 7,000 Mariupol residents were rescued on Tuesday, President Zelensky said in his nightly Facebook address
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During the interview, Mr Peskov also echoed Putin’s demands, saying that the “main goals of the operation” are to “get rid of the military potential of Ukraine,” to ensure the ex-Soviet state is a “neutral country,” to get rid of “nationalist battalions,” for Ukraine to accept that Crimea, which was annexed by Putin in 2014, is part of Russia and to accept that the breakaway statelets of Luhansk and Donetsk “are already independent”.
The US Pentagon denounced the statement as reckless, saying “it’s not the way a responsible nuclear power should act”.
Asked about Peskov’s statement and Russia’s nuclear stance more broadly, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Moscow’s rhetoric on the potential use of nuclear weapons was “dangerous.”
He told reporters: “It’s not the way a responsible nuclear power should act.”
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Mr Kirby stressed that Pentagon officials “haven’t seen anything that would lead us to conclude that we need to change our strategic deterrent posture”.
He added: “We monitor this as best we can every day.”
The US is expected to announce more sanctions to be imposed on Russia when President Biden travels to Brussels for talks with NATO and G7 leaders on Thursday.
Zelensky is expected to address the gathering via remote teleconference.
Ukrainian officials say he will use the opportunity to call for more air defence systems.