Russia walks back loose talk on nuclear threats

Russia walks back loose talk on nuclear threats

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday that Moscow will not launch a nuclear strike in Ukraine, despite heightened rhetoric from President Vladimir Putin and senior aides in recent weeks darkly hinting that the nuclear option was on the table.

Spokesman Alexei Zaitsev told reporters that nuclear weapons “are not applicable to tasks in the special military operation” — Mr. Putin’s name for the Ukraine campaign — and that the Kremlin has “repeatedly refuted insinuations about Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons,” according to Reuters.

“Russia adheres to the principle that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it must not be unleashed,” Mr. Zaitsev said. “Russia is aware of the threat posed by irresponsible behavior in this area. Scenarios for Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons are clearly spelled out in Russian doctrine.”

The statement appears to be an effort to dial back recent nuclear saber-rattling by Russian officials.

Last month Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic enclave, if Sweden and Finland joined NATO.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later told Russian state media that the threat of nuclear war “should not be underestimated” given the rush of Western arms to Ukraine to ward off the Russian invaders. Analysts have said the rhetoric heightened fears that Russia may be contemplating a smaller, “tactical” nuclear weapon in Ukraine if it appears its forces are on the verge of defeat.

“The danger is serious,” Mr. Lavrov said. “It is real. It should not be underestimated.”

CIA Director William Burns has downplayed many of these threats, saying the intelligence community has yet to see “practical evidence” that Russia is currently postured for a nuclear standoff. But he nonetheless said the threats should not be taken lightly.