Russia is not considering using nuclear weapons ‘at this stage’, Kremlin foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warns
- Speaking in late January, Lavrov denied Moscow was planning an invasion
- But less than a month after his comments, Putin ordered troops into Ukraine
- Speaking on Tuesday, Lavrov said Russia would not use nuclear weapons ‘at this stage’ of the invasion as Moscow said a new phase to take Donbas had begun
- Lavrov also denied that Russian forces were targeting civilians in Ukraine
- This is despite mounting evidence of atrocities carried out by Moscow’s troops
By CHRIS JEWERS FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 10:59 EDT, 19 April 2022 | UPDATED: 10:59 EDT, 19 April 2022
Russia is not considering using nuclear weapons ‘at this stage’ of its invasion of Ukraine, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has warned.
In an interview in which he parroted Vladimir Putin’s propaganda over Moscow’s brutal military actions, Lavrov blamed the US, the West and NATO expansion for his country’s so-called ‘special operation’.
When asked by India Today whether Russia had any intention of using nuclear weapons, Lavrov said: ‘At this stage, we are considering the option of conventional weapons only,’ according to Russia’s RIA state news agency.
Lavrov, a long-time Kremlin mouthpiece and staunch ally of Putin, said in late January that Russia would not invade its neighbour. On February 24, less a month after his comments, Putin ordered Moscow’s troops into Ukraine.
Days after, Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, and threatened NATO allies with ‘consequences greater than any you have faced in history’ should they intervene in the Ukraine conflict.
This raised fears that the Russian leader would be prepared to use nuclear weapons in the conflict, something no country has done since the Second World War.
The foreign minister also confirmed today that Russia has launched a new stage of its invasion of Ukraine, in which it hopes to capture the eastern Donbas region.
Russian foreign minister Russia Sergei Lavrov (pictured speaking last week in Moscow) has warned his country is not considering using nuclear weapons ‘at this stage’ of its invasion
‘The current events are rooted in the US and West’s desire to rule the world,’ Lavrov told the Indian English-language news publication on Tuesday.
‘They wanted to show the world there would be no multipolarity, only unipolarity, and created a springboard [Ukraine] against us [Russia] at our borders. They pumped arms into Ukraine.
‘The real reason [for the war] is the complacency of most countries after World War II,’ he opined. ‘They violated their promises to Russian leadership and started moving NATO eastward after the Soviet Union disappeared. They said it’s a defensive alliance and not a threat to Russian security.’
Russia has given a variety of justifications for its invasion, such as NATO expansionism and claims that it is ‘denazifying’ the country – which has a Jewish president and where the far-right enjoy little to no public support in politics.
Lavrov also denied that Russian forces have committed war crimes, saying that Moscow’s forces are only targeting military infrastructure – despite mounting evidence on the contrary.
‘Our army has only been targeting military infrastructure and not civilians. The Ukrainian army has been using civilians as human shields.’
He added: ‘The West is not paying attention to our facts. They are placing attention on false things like what they said about Bucha.
‘They brought up Bucha three days after the Ukrainian mayor of Bucha proudly said the city was back under their control.’
Lavrov’s claim, pushed several times by Kremlin officials since Ukrainian authorities liberated Bucha from Russia’s forces, has been debunked.
Satellite imagery from commercial provider Maxar Technologies, first reported by The New York Times, proved the bodies had been there for weeks.
Since then, hundreds more have been found, and eyewitness accounts have spoken of Russian soldiers carrying out brutal rapes and executions. In some cases, civilians had their hands tied behind their backs by Russian soldiers before they were shot.
Bucha has become synonymous with scores of atrocities alleged to have been committed by Russian troops across Ukraine. The atrocities have led US President Joe Biden to accuse Vladimir Putin of genocide – a term some other Western leaders have hesitated to use.
Lavrov’s comments on nuclear weapons came after Vladimir Putin sent up strategic nuclear-capable bombers into the skies over Western Russia on Monday, amid huge pressure on the Kremlin over the calamitous sinking of the Moskva flagship in the Black Sea last week.
Videos from Monday and Saturday caught four of the aircraft – used to carry nuclear bombs – over the Kaluga region, between Moscow and the Ukrainian border.
The planes were believed to be Russian Tu-95s, known as Bears, and appeared to be flying in striking distance of Ukraine. The Defence Ministry in Moscow had not immediately announced the purpose of the mission.
The Tu-95s have been used a number of times to strike targets in Ukraine with non-nuclear weapons, notably Kh-55 and Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles. The super-loud Tu-95 is the only propeller-powered strategic bomber still in operational use today, and the plane first flew 70 years ago.
Putin deployed the Tu-95s to buzz Britain at moments of high tension, for example in February this year when the Royal Air Force scrambled Typhoon fighters to escort two Bears off northern Scotland.
Vladimir Putin sent up his strategic bombers in the skies over Western Russia today amid huge pressure on the Kremlin over the sinking of the Moskva flagship in the Black Sea. The planes are believed to be Russian Tu-95s, known as Bears, and appeared to be flying in striking distance of Ukraine
Putin sends nuclear bombers over western Russia close to Ukraine
Russia is one of nine countries in possession of nuclear warheads, in addition to the US, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
With a believed 6,257 warheads, Russia has more nuclear warheads than any other nation. The US is the only country that comes close to Russia’s numbers, with 5,550.
Yesterday, former Kremlin foreign affairs minister Andrei Kozyrev said that Putin could use nuclear weapons under ‘very, very specific situations.
Speaking to The Mirror, he said: ‘If Russia or one of those countries really threatened in their hearts – existentially, that is … if NATO troops come to Moscow, then probably they will resort to nuclear weapons.’
This, he said, is currently a long way off. ‘There is no existential threat to Russia under the present circumstances,’ he added.
In contrast, an ex-Ukrainian MP urged Vladimir Putin to use weapons of mass destruction against his own country in a Telegram post on Sunday.
Ilya Kiva, an opposition politician banned from parliament for supporting Russia‘s invasion, posted the appeal to his Telegram – just a day after Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Putin could go nuclear.
Underneath the image of a nuclear explosion, Kiva wrote: ‘REMEMBER!!! – THEY ARE AFRAID AND RESPECT ONLY POWER!!!
‘Zelensky, his entourage and Western curators, are most afraid of a [Russian] pre-emptive strike [with] weapons of mass destruction.
‘This is what can put an end to today’s confrontation, not only with the Ukrainian authorities, but with the entire West which actively and already openly takes part today in the military conflict in Ukraine…
‘If anyone thinks that this is not according to the rules, remember: the West wrote these rules in its own interests and only in order to more effectively destroy you.’
He spoke out after President Zelensky sat down for an interview with CNN in which he warned that the West needs to prepare for the possibility that Putin will resort to using nuclear or chemical weapons against his country.
Western officials fear the Russian strongman could resort to such desperate measures in a last-ditch effort to turn the tide of war in his favour after a series of embarrassing battlefield defeats.
‘They could do it,’ Zelensky said. ‘For them the life of the people [means] nothing. That’s why.
‘We should not be afraid… but be ready. That is a question not only for Ukraine but for all the world, I think.’
His warning had been echoed days earlier by CIA director William Burns who said the threat of a Russian nuclear strike was not to be ‘taken lightly’.
‘Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons,’ he said.
‘We’re obviously very concerned. I know President Biden is deeply concerned about avoiding a third world war, about avoiding a threshold in which nuclear conflict becomes possible.’
Tactical nuclear weapons are nukes with smaller and less-powerful warheads that were originally designed to be used on friendly territory as part of defence against an invasion where the goal is not widespread destruction.
Meanwhile, Russia launched its long-awaited all-out assault on east Ukraine on Tuesday, seizing its first town after unleashing thousands of troops in what Ukraine has described as the Battle of the Donbas, a campaign to take two provinces.
Ukrainian officials insisted their troops would withstand the new assault, which they said began overnight with massive Russian artillery and rocket barrages and attempts to advance across almost the entire stretch of the eastern front.
Western officials fear that Putin (file image) could resort to using nuclear or chemical weapons as his invasion falters in order to avoid or mitigate a humiliating defeat
In the first big reported success of Russia’s new assault, Ukraine said the Russians had seized Kreminna, a frontline town of 18,000 people in Luhansk, one of the two Donbas provinces.
Russian forces were attacking ‘on all sides’, authorities were trying to evacuate civilians and it was impossible to tally the civilian dead, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Moscow gave few details about its new campaign, but Lavrov confirmed that ‘another stage of this operation is beginning’.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was ‘methodically’ carrying out its plan to ‘liberate’ Donetsk and Luhansk, provinces which Moscow demands Kyiv cede fully to Russian-backed separatists.