Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on NATO to launch preemptive strikes against Russia to deter them from using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine in public remarks made on Wednesday.
Speaking via satellite to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, Zelenskyy said that “preventative strikes” are needed, “so that they know what will happen if they use [a nuke].” He claimed that this was the only way to “exclude the possibility of use of nuclear weapons by Russia.”
Reconsider how you apply pressure, the order of application,” Zelenskyy added, per an English translation of his remarks.
Zelenskyy’s comments come as both the United States and NATO allies have privately and publicly warned Russia against using a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukrainian territory.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and has since been waging war against it, possesses a stockpile of 1,912 tactical nuclear weapons, per an estimate by the Federation of American Scientists, the largest such stockpile in the world.
Unlike strategic nuclear weapons, which are launched by intercontinental ballistic missiles or long-range bombers and are designed for nuclear deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons are smaller-yield weapons intended for use in regular combat. The scale of destruction is smaller and tactical weapons are not considered capable of destroying cities or permanently contaminating large areas with radiation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
One such weapon, the Poseidon torpedo, is reported to be under consideration for use by Russia, according to La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper.
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Zelenskyy’s announcement comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Sept. 30, signed documents annexing four “oblasts,” or administrative regions of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – making up 15% of its territory.
In an address on Sept. 21, Putin suggested that Russia’s nuclear weapons are “not a bluff” and that he may use them if “the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people.” Analysts interpreted the remarks as a threat to deter Western-backed Ukrainian offensives against Russian-claimed territories during the ongoing conflict.
The U.S. and its allies called the referenda a “sham” and illegal under international law. President Joe Biden announced that the United States would “never recognize” Russia’s claims to the regions, as did the leaders of other NATO member states, while Ukraine, in response, formally submitted an application for NATO membership – something that Putin once called a “red line” for Russia.
Speaking about Putin’s nuclear threats, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on NBC News that any use of nuclear weapons by Russia would lead to “catastrophic consequences.”