Vladimir Putin signs treaties annexing Ukrainian regions

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Vladimir Putin renewed his nuclear threat at a Kremlin ceremony on Friday, warning he would defend the newly annexed Ukrainian territories “with all our strength and all our means” in another escalatory move. Ukrainian intelligence has since revised the threat of Russia using nuclear weapons to “very high”. But a member of the State Duma, Russia’s lower chamber, toned down the threat of nuclear war, dealing a blow to Putin’s sabre-rattling.

When asked about Putin’s potential deployment of nuclear weapons, Evgeny Popov told Sky News: “Using nuclear weapons in the 21st century is an insane decision – we are not insane.

“I am sure that we’re not going to use them first. 

“It’s not our rules. We have a doctrine about using nuclear weapons. 

“And we’re going to use it only in response. If you or any other Western country is going to attack us with nuclear weapons, of course, we will respond.”

Clarifying Putin’s threats, the State Duma member said: “You should carefully listen to Putin’s statement.

“We’re not threatening anybody with our nuclear weapons. 

“We just tell you that we have nuclear weapons.”

Vadym Skibitsky, deputy intelligence chief in Ukraine, said this week that his nation’s military intelligence ranks the threat of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons as “very high”. He also noted such weapons are about 100 times more powerful than the type of missiles that Russia has used against Ukraine so far.

He told The Guardian that Putin’s forces would likely use the weapons to “target places along the frontlines with lots of [army] personnel and equipment, key command centres, and critical infrastructure,” adding, “everything will depend on how the situation develops on the battlefield.”

Baltic state leaders have also expressed concern over Russia’s use of nuclear weapons following Putin’s annexation speech.

“Russia is stealing Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions from Ukraine and threatening the world with nuclear weapons,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in a statement. 

Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy general of NATO, told BBC Radio’s Today she fears Russian forces “will strike back now in really unpredictable ways that may even involve weapons of mass destruction.”

A nuclear hit could come as “a single strike over the Black Sea or perhaps a strike at a Ukrainian military facility,” she said, adding: “I do worry about that kind of scenario.”

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Putin had previously made a thinly-veiled nuclear threat in his “partial mobilisation” speech in which he warned: “This is not a bluff.”

In response to Putin’s annexation speech in the Kremlin, Ukrainian President Zelensky announced his country is submitting an “accelerated” application to join NATO.

It remains unclear whether Ukraine could join the military alliance, as an accession would require the unanimous consent of all NATO members and a commitment to the peaceful resolutions to territorial disputes. 

With four of Ukraine’s regions illegally grabbed by Russia, Ukraine’s NATO accession could be complicated.

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