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Putin ally warns of nuclear war if Russia is defeated in Ukraine

By Sarah May on
 January 28, 2023

As the conflict in Ukraine shows no signs of abating, Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and a longtime ally of current leader Vladimir Putin, has warned that if his country goes down to defeat in the ongoing hostilities, nuclear war will become a real possibility, as The Hill reports.

Medvedev's words of warning came earlier this month in a Telegram post in which he asserted that it is an “elementary” proposition that the loss of a conventional war by a nuclear power will necessarily bring about such a danger.

Words of warning

In issuing his cautionary comments about the possible outbreak of nuclear war, Medvedev made reference to the fact that numerous representatives to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland had made clear their view that Russia has to lose in Ukraine if peace is to ever be achieved there.

Medvedev emphasized that nuclear-capable countries tend not to lose wars “on which their fate depends,” and he said that this was also an “obvious” conclusion.

Though Putin has often floated the possibility of using tactical nuclear weaponry over the course of the last year of conflict, in October, he backtracked somewhat and claimed that such capabilities would not be deployed in Ukraine.

Notably, according to Reuters, Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov denied that Medvedev's declaration was tantamount to an escalation in the conflict and said that the comments were in keeping with his country's longstanding nuclear doctrine authorizing nuclear strikes only after “aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened.”

Biden sends tanks

As NBC News reported this week, a new – and potentially provocative – wrinkle in Western involvement in the Ukraine conflict emerged when President Joe Biden announced that the United States would send 31 Abrams tanks to Volodymyr Zelensky's military.

Discussing the new wave of assistance, which will also include help with training and supplies needed to operate the equipment, Biden said that the move will “enhance Ukraine's capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives.”

“That's what this is about – helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia, there is no offensive threat to Russia,” Biden maintained.

A senior administration official told NBC News that the decision is “also in keeping with that representative of a long term, long term commitment that we have to Ukraine's defense needs.”

Russia responds

Despite Biden's claims that the tank shipments are not indicative of an offensive action toward Russia, that was not at all the way the president's decision was received by Kremlin officials, as Fox News noted.

Peskov fired back at Biden's contention, saying, “There are constant statements from European capitals and Washington that the sending of various weapons systems to Ukraine, including tanks, in no way signifies the involvement of these countries or the alliance in hostilities in Ukraine.”

The Russian spokesman continued, “We categorically disagree with this, and in Moscow, everything that the alliance and the capitals I mentioned are doing is seen as direct involvement in the conflict. We see that this is growing.” Sergey Nechayev, Russia's ambassador to Germany, referred to the tank deployments as “a permanent escalation.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova went so far as to suggest that the decision to send tanks to Ukraine was itself evidence of “a war planned in advance,” building on prior claims that NATO had been plotting aggressive movements even before the conflict began last February.

Pentagon downplays threats

Despite the heated rhetoric that followed Biden's tank announcement, the Pentagon has taken steps to minimize the Russian threats by characterizing them as empty words that have been uttered more than once over the past year, as Newsweek notes.

After Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, described the tanks as “another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation,” Defense Department spokesperson Sabrina Singh dismissed the gist of the remarks as the same old, same old.

“I feel like I've heard that talking point before from them, whether it was the Javelins that we were giving or the HIMARS and then the Patriot,” Singh said, referencing prior equipment aid sent to Ukraine by the U.S. “Everything seems, I guess, to be an 'escalation,'” she added.

Calling into question Russia's entire premise, Singh concluded, “What is escalatory is them continuing this war each and every day...Vladimir Putin could make the decision tomorrow to end it.”