The Russian government is laying the groundwork to use nuclear arms, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Friday, saying he did not think a decision to use such weapons had been made but that even talking about it was “dangerous.”
Speaking to the BBC, Zelenskyy said Russia had begun “to prepare their society” for a nuclear strike in Ukraine, where Russian forces have been retreating in the wake of a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has seen Kyiv recapture territory that was illegally annexed by Moscow a week ago. Zelenskyy added: “That’s very dangerous.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons, recently saying the US had set a “precedent” by dropping atomic bombs in World War II. Although their use is still deemed exceedingly unlikely by analysts, Western officials are taking the threats seriously and monitoring Russia for any signs it may be preparing to use a smaller, tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield — a possibility that one expert told Insider is “extraordinarily” concerning.
US President Joe Biden has likewise said he believes Putin is “not joking” about such threats.
While noting he shares such concerns, Zelenskyy said there was no reason to be fatalistic about a Russian threat that is designed to make Western nations think twice about supporting Ukraine.
“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,” he said, adding: “I think it’s dangerous to even speak about it.”
Zelenskyy argued that Russia was already threatening the world with its actions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which it occupied in early March. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency last month said the situation at the plant was “untenable,” warning that “we are one step away from a nuclear accident.” The standoff has raised fears of another Chernobyl, the 1986 nuclear reactor meltdown spread dangerous radiation across Europe.
The Ukrainian president urged his allies to impose additional sanctions on Russia to discourage any sort of nuclear blackmail.
“The world can stop urgently the actions of Russian occupiers,” he said. “The world can implement the sanction package in such cases and do everything to make them leave the nuclear power plant.”
Charles R. Davis is a Senior Reporter at Insider (where this first appeared). His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, HuffPost, Columbia Journalism Review, and Vice. His coverage of labor violations in the entertainment industry was recognized at the 2019 Southern California Journalism Awards.