NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday of “dangerous" rhetoric after Russia’s leader suggested Moscow could use nuclear weapons over the war in Ukraine.
“This is dangerous and reckless nuclear rhetoric. It’s not new as he has done it many times before. He knows very well that a nuclear war should never be fought and cannot be won, and it will have unprecedented consequences for Russia," Stoltenberg said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told German media on Wednesday he does not believe Russia will use nuclear weapons, after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would use all means to protect its territory.
“I don’t believe that he will use these weapons," Zelensky told the TV station of Germany’s Bild newspaper, referring to nuclear arms. “I don’t believe that the world will allow him to use these weapons."
President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military mobilisation and vowed on Wednesday to use “all available means" to protect Russian territory, after Moscow-held regions of Ukraine suddenly announced annexation referendums.
The votes, already denounced by Kyiv and the West as a “sham", will dramatically up the stakes in the seven-month old conflict in Ukraine by giving Moscow the ability to accuse Ukrainian forces of attacking Russian territory.
Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south — said on Tuesday that they would hold the votes over five days beginning Friday.
In a pre-recorded address to the nation early on Wednesday, Putin accused the West of trying to “destroy" his country through its backing of Kyiv, and said Russia needed to support those in Ukraine who wanted to “determine their own future".
The Russian leader announced a partial military mobilisation, with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu telling state television that some 300,000 reservists would be called up.