Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russian officials have begun to “prepare their society” for the possible use of nuclear weapons, but added he does not believe Russia is ready to use them.
President Zelensky denied urging strikes on Russia in an interview with the BBC, claiming that an earlier remark had been mistranslated.
“You must use preventive kicks,” he said, referring to sanctions, “not attacks”.
The annexations, widely regarded as illegal, have raised concerns about a possible escalation in the seven-month conflict. President Putin and other senior Russian officials have suggested that nuclear weapons – possibly smaller, tactical weapons – could be used to defend those areas, but Western officials say there is no evidence that Moscow is willing to do so.
“They are not ready to do it, to use it. But they begin to communicate. They don’t know whether they’ll use or not use it. I think it’s dangerous to even speak about it.”
The initial comment was denounced as “an appeal to start yet another world war” by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it demonstrated why Russia was correct to launch its operation in Ukraine.
“After that translation,” President Zelensky said, “they [the Russians] did their way, how it’s useful for them, and began to retranslate it in other directions.”
The interview happened hours after US President Joe Biden said that the Russian threat to use nuclear weapons had brought the world closer to “Armageddon” than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War.
President Zelensky stated that immediate action was required because Russia’s threats posed a “risk for the entire planet.” He claimed that Moscow had already “made a step” by occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear station, which President Putin is attempting to turn into Russian property.
Around 500 Russian troops were at the plant, he said, although the Ukrainian staff still operate it.”The world can put an end to Russian occupiers’ actions right now,” President Zelensky said. “In such cases, the world can implement the sanction package and do everything possible to force them to leave the nuclear power plant.”
Empowered by sophisticated Western-supplied weapons, the Ukrainian army has made significant advances in the east and the south, reclaiming towns and villages even in areas the Kremlin claims are now part of Russia.
President Zelensky said Russian forces were putting up a “good enough fight”, but that Ukraine had received weapons – “I won’t say we have enough now” – and soldiers were motivated to push forward.
The Russian military’s setbacks, which have caused President Putin great embarrassment, have sparked unusual criticism of the country’s military. In the midst of the losses, President Putin announced the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of reservists, sparking rare anti-war demonstrations in Russia and a massive exodus of military-age men.
President Zelensky urged Russians to “fight for your body, rights, and soul,” claiming that “those mobilised kids now, they come with nothing.” There are no guns or armour. They’re being tossed around like cannon fodder. Let them come if they want to be kebabs. But, if they are people, and believe that this is their life, they must fight.
“Everything Putin is afraid of, and it’s not the nuclear hit, he is afraid of his community,” he said. He’s afraid of his people. Because only those people are capable of replacing him nowadays. Take away his power. Give it to someone else.”
Asked whether President Putin could survive in an eventual Ukrainian win in the war, he said: “I don’t care.”