- A top Russian official reiterated Russia’s nuclear threats, saying it’s “not a bluff”.
- Dmitry Medvedev said NATO countries would not intervene if Russia fired an atomic bomb on Ukraine.
- An expert told Insider it’s probably a bluff, but it should be taken seriously anyway.
Russia’s former president reiterated the country’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and mocked NATO by saying it would not come to Ukraine’s aid if Russia struck.
Dmitry Medvedev, who is now the head of Russia’s Security Council, targeted US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and the wider NATO alliance on Telegram on Tuesday.
He said those leaders “constantly threaten us with ‘terrifying consequences’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons,” and accused Truss of being “completely ready to immediately begin an exchange of nuclear strikes with our country.”
Medvedev said Russia’s laws around the use of nuclear weapons mean that Russia can retaliate if hit with nuclear weapons, or if attacked with conventional weapons that threaten “the very survival of our state.”
Russia will also “do everything” to prevent nuclear weapons from showing up in the country’s “enemy neighbours” such as Ukraine, Medvedev said.
“If the threat to Russia exceeds the established danger limit, we will have to react,” he said. “Without asking anyone’s permission, without long consultation. And it’s certainly not a bluff.”
And if Russia were to strike Ukraine with a nuclear weapon, NATO member states would prioritize their own security over protecting “a dying Ukraine that no one needs,” Medvedev said.
An isolated Russia
Security expert Professor Michael Clarke told Insider he believes Putin’s use of a nuclear weapon would “take him down immediately.”
“The whole world would turn against him,” he said, arguing that he believed NATO would strike back, albeit with conventional weapons. China would also likely drop its muted support for Russia, he predicted.
Clarke, associate director of the Strategy and Security Institute at the University of Exeter in the UK, said: “I think the campaign will ramp up immediately and I suspect that would actually bring Western troops into Ukraine.”
Medvedev’s comments come as Russia plans to annex large parts of occupied Ukraine through mock referendums.
Should President Vladimir Putin announce annexations — expected this Friday, according to the British Defense Ministry — any attempt to retake those areas in Moscow could be interpreted as an attack on Russia itself.
Reminding the world of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is nothing new to Putin and his allies. He alluded to it in February, and in March Medvedev reaffirmed Russia’s declared right to use nuclear weapons.
But a recent spate of statements like this has been “trying to ramp up the threat” and deter the West from further aiding Ukraine because Putin is “in a corner,” Clarke argued.
Putin’s recent announcement to call up reservists is seen internationally as a desperate act, spurred on by Ukraine’s successful counterattack.
Putin has even recently been snubbed by semi-allies such as Turkey, India and China.
Clarke said Putin was “humiliated”.
Is Putin bluffing?
After Putin’s latest statement, the White House warned that Russia would have “catastrophic consequences” if it used tactical nuclear weapons.
In an interview broadcast on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he did not think Putin was bluffing.
Clarke said he believes the Russian threats are indeed bluff, but the West should still take them seriously.
“Even when people bluff, they find they have no room to maneuver and then get stuck doing what they thought they shouldn’t,” he said.
He added: “Whenever you start playing games with nuclear strategy, the danger of a mistake or pure miscalculation can never be ruled out. So yes, the West has to take it seriously.”
The defense minister of neighboring Russia’s Latvia also told Insider that he believes Putin is likely bluffing in hopes of getting the West to cut its support for Ukraine.