Ukraine: Zelensky warns that Putin might use nuclear weapons
As Russian troops launched the battle of the Donbas, which Ukrainian officials called the start of “the second phase of the war”, ex-Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev warned of the reasons that could lead the Kremlin to order the use of nuclear weapons.
While emphasising he believes Russia would only use nukes in “very, very specific situations”, Mr Kozyrev, who served under Boris Yeltsin in the nineties, warned an excessive involvement in the conflict by NATO could trigger such an escalation.
He said: “If Russia or one of those countries (felt) really threatened in their hearts, existentially, that is … if NATO troops come to Moscow, then probably they will resort to nuclear weapons.”
Speaking to Fox News Digital, the politician and author of The Firebird: The Elusive Fate of Russian Democracy suggested this would be the last resort.
He claimed: “The responsible military commanders will do everything to avoid such a scenario and to prevent the use of nuclear weapons unless they believe there is an existential threat to their motherland.”
His comments were echoed on Tuesday by Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s current foreign minister, who claimed Moscow will use only conventional weapons on its southern neighbour when asked about the possible use of nuclear arms in the war.
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Andrei Kozyrev during his time as Russia’s foreign minister in the 1990s
The remarks, although Lavrov isn’t directly responsible for military decision-making, are among the most categorical from a senior Russian official on the matter.
However, it must be remembered that only days before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, Putin had promised he had no intention of starting a war.
Meanwhile, Western intelligence officials have alerted the Kremlin might turn to tactical or other limited nuclear weapons from its arsenal if its invasion of Ukraine continues to struggle.
Lavrov confirmed Russia’s military operation has entered a new phase and will continue – referring to the much-anticipated attack on the eastern region of Donbas.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday evening: “We can now confirm that Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, which they have been preparing for a long time.
“A large part of the Russian army is now dedicated to this offensive.”
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According to Kyiv, Moscow has been bulking up its forces in the east of the country using troops that it pulled out of the north and neighbouring Belarus, a close Russian ally.
In line with the spirit conveyed since February 24, Mr Zelensky suggested the same fierce resistance shown in the more than seven weeks of war can be expected going forward.
He said in a video address: “No matter how many Russian troops are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves. We will do it every day.”
But a day later, in a first sign this stage of the conflict could grow in difficulty, Ukrainian troops withdrew from a city in the Donbas region.
Kreminna, which had a population of more than 18,000 before the war, appeared to become the first city confirmed to have been taken by Russian forces since the launch of their new offensive.
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The West has warned Russia may turn to tactical or other limited nuclear weapons
About 350 miles southeast of the capital Kyiv was attacked “from all sides”, Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, told a briefing.
He said: “Kreminna is under the control of the ‘Orcs’ [Russians]. They have entered the city.
“Our defenders had to withdraw. They have entrenched themselves in new positions and continue to fight the Russian army.”
Evacuated residents from the city have said they cannot reach relatives and friends there, and Russia denies targeting civilians.
Mr Gaidai added: “It is impossible to calculate the number of dead among the civilian population. We have official statistics — about 200 dead — but in reality, there are many more.”
The governor did not specify what period the estimated death toll covered. Yet, the seizure of Kreminna and the damage to people’s lives there rise fears of what could come.
Russian forces are certainly a step closer to the much larger city of Kramatorsk, one of their potential targets in their offensive on the region.
Capturing Donbas and the southern port city of Mariupol would help Moscow establish a land link between the territory it controls in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea region that it seized and annexed in 2014.
President Zelensky drew back to that period, when protests by pro-Russian groups in the Donbas region escalated into a war between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists of Donetsk and Luhansk, to explain the relevance of today’s battle.
He said: “For us, the battle for Donbas is very important. It is important for different reasons, for the reason of safety, first of all.
“Our grouping located in Donbas is one of the best military we have. It’s a large grouping and Russia wants to encircle them and destroy them.
“It is 44,000 professional military men who survived a great war from the beginning of 2014. This is why it is very important for us to preserve that part of our army, that is one of the most powerful.”