Russia can defend new regions with nuclear weapons: Medvedev

Putin ally says Ukrainian territories that vote to join Russia will be protected by Moscow as ‘sham’ referendums near.

Russian soldier walks in front of the destroyed Metallurgical Combine Azovstal plant
Moscow does not fully control any of the four regions it is expected to try to annex [File: AP]

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, has said that any weapons in Moscow’s arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories incorporated into Russia from Ukraine.

Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, also said on Thursday that referendums being organised by Russian-installed and separatist authorities in large swathes of occupied Ukrainian territory will take place, and that “there is no going back”:

“The Donbas [Donetsk and Luhansk] republics and other territories will be accepted into Russia,” he said in a Telegram post, referring to breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

His comments came after President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday that Moscow would use “all available means” to protect Russia’s “territorial integrity” as he moved to mobilise 300,000 reserve forces to fight in Ukraine. The thinly veiled nuclear threat drew immediate condemnation from an array of Western leaders.

Medvedev, who regularly issues aggressive statements on the West and Ukraine, added that the protection of all the territories would be significantly strengthened by the Russian armed forces.

“Russia has announced that not only mobilisation capabilities, but also any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear weapons and weapons based on new principles, could be used for such protection,” he said.

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The votes to join Russia are due to take place in the Russian-held parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces, as well as part of Mykolaiv province, from Friday – and are widely expected to produce results overwhelmingly endorsing joining Russia.

The votes, which will take place under military occupation without any outside oversight, have been labelled shams by Kyiv and its Western allies.

If formally admitted to the Russian Federation, the occupied territories, where Ukrainian counteroffensives have gathered pace in recent weeks, will under Moscow’s nuclear doctrine, be entitled to protection from Russian nuclear weapons.

Moscow does not fully control any of the four regions it is expected to try to annex, with only around 60 percent of Donetsk and 66 percent of Zaporizhia currently held by the Russian army.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies