Russian officials play down Putin’s nuclear threat

Russia is not seeking ‘open confrontation’, says deputy foreign minister, as an ambassador claims Washington and Moscow are not near the ‘abyss’ of a nuclear conflict.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russian deputy foreign minister
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow is not threatening the use of its nuclear weapons [File: Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AP]

Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin made a thinly veiled nuclear threat to Ukraine and its Western allies, Russian officials played down the warning.

On Friday, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said Moscow was not threatening the use of nuclear weapons and that any confrontation with NATO and the United States was not in the Kremlin’s interests.

​​“We are not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons,” Ryabkov told reporters. “The criteria for their use are outlined in Russia’s military doctrine.”

INTERACTIVE Russia's nuclear programme
(Al Jazeera)

In a televised address earlier this week, Putin said he was “not bluffing” about using nuclear weapons if Russian territories were threatened as he announced a partial mobilisation to boost the military fighting in Ukraine.

But Ryabkov said Russia was not seeking “open confrontation” with the US or NATO and did not want the situation to escalate further.

Also on Friday, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said he wanted to believe “that despite all difficulties, Moscow and Washington are not on the verge of a collapse into the abyss of a nuclear conflict”, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

And two retired Russian generals told Al Jazeera that they believe the likelihood of nuclear conflict was slim.

Russian President Vladimir Putin makes an address, dedicated to a military conflict with Ukraine, in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced 300,000 more soldiers [Russian Presidential Press Service/Kremlin via Reuters]

On Wednesday, Putin announced Russia’s first mobilisation since the second world war and told the public that his nation was fighting against Ukraine and the military resources of the Western countries that back Kyiv.

During the address, Putin said he supports the annexation referendums across four regions that are under way in Ukraine.

Russian officials, including ex-President Dmitry Medvedev, said once the regions are incorporated into Russia, Ukrainian attacks on these areas would be considered direct assaults on Russia.

This would mean, under Russia’s nuclear doctrine, it could permit the use of nuclear weapons if Moscow considers it is facing an “existential threat”.

Meanwhile, speeches at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday were highly critical of Russia, with non-aligned nations joining the US and its allies in condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who attended the UN meeting, said Ukraine had become “an anti-Russia staging ground to create threats against Russian security”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies