Russia has reportedly threatened to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine if it continues to fight pro-Russian separatists in the country’s eastern region.
Ukrainian Minister of Defense Valeriy Heletely leveled the accusation against the Kremlin on his Facebook page Monday, Newsweek reports.
“The Russian side has threatened on several occasions across unofficial channels that, in the case of continued resistance they are ready to use a tactical nuclear weapon against us,” Heletely wrote.
The defense minister’s comments indicated he believed Russia’s “hybrid war” in Eastern Ukraine was over and that his troops should prepare for a “full-scale invasion.” Heletely called on Ukrainian forces to “consolidate” and “begin building defenses against Russia,” a signal that he may fear a Russian advance on the nation’s capital Kiev.
The threat, if confirmed, would not be the first time Russia has mentioned its nuclear might in recent weeks.
Russia denies that it is involved militarily in Ukraine, despite weeks of fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatist factions. Officially the Kremlin claims that any Russians fighting with separatists are not on military duty but in the country fighting as volunteers.
“Russia is far from being involved in any large-scale conflicts,” Putin recently said during a speech at a Russian youth camp. “We don't want that and don't plan on it. But naturally, we should always be ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.”
He immediately followed those remarks with implied threats of Russia’s power and another mention of nuclear weapons, according to The Telegraph.
“Russia's partners ... should understand it's best not to mess with us,” he said.
“Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” Putin added, according to CNN. “This is a reality, not just words.”
Experts estimate that Russia currently has a total of 8,000 nuclear warheads, 1,600 of which are estimated to be operational.
No one knows for sure what Russia’s endgame in Ukraine may be.
Putin reportedly told European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso in a recent phone call that he could “take Kiev in two weeks” if he wanted to.
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