Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow had never “deliberately said anything” about using nuclear weapons, but said that as long as the weapons existed, there was always a risk of their use.
And he denied that Russia planned to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
“We have never deliberately said anything about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons. We only responded with suggestions from Western leaders (of nuclear threats).”
Putin said he accused Western governments, including former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, of “nuclear blackmail” against Russia.
He also accused the West of “forcing the thesis that Russia will use nuclear weapons” to influence neutral countries against Moscow. He stressed that Russian military doctrine allows for the use of nuclear weapons only for “defensive” purposes.
Putin also repeated Russia’s baseless claims that Ukraine was building a dirty bomb for use on its territory and blamed Moscow for it.
Russia has accused Ukraine of planning to use a so-called dirty bomb, a combination of conventional explosives such as dynamite and radioactive material such as uranium. Kiev and its Western allies say there is no truth to the accusation and that Moscow may be mounting a false flag operation.
Ukraine has invited experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit two facilities that the Russian government says – without evidence – are involved in a plan to create a dirty bomb.
More background: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that he has conveyed to Putin the consequences if Russia uses nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine.
Blinken also denounced Russia’s latest claim that Ukraine was using a “dirty bomb” as “another invention and the height of recklessness that comes from nuclear power.” Blinken confirmed that the US is following the Kremlin’s nuclear saber-rattling “very cautiously” but that it “sees no reason to change our nuclear posture”.
Despite Putin’s rhetoric, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Andrey Kelin, told CNN on Wednesday that Russia will not use nuclear weapons in a war against Ukraine.
However, Moscow’s actions in recent weeks – “dirty bomb” allegations, attacks on civilian infrastructure, battlefield defeats and annual military exercises – have raised concerns, a senior administration official said.
This official told CNN that the collapse of parts of the Russian military in Ukraine could be a factor that could cause Putin to resort to the use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the US is closely following the development in the Kherson region, where it is not easy for Russian soldiers to retreat.
Russia briefed the US on the annual GROM exercise, which includes strategic nuclear forces, the Pentagon said. The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Putin was leading military exercises to practice firing ballistic and cruise missiles.
Despite the growing concern, US officials have seen no evidence of Russian actions indicating that Moscow is preparing to use nuclear weapons.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood contributed to this post.