KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — MOSCOW – A top Russian security official has issued the sternest warning yet that Moscow has the right to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine if under threat, saying that the West won’t dare intervene.
Dmitry Medvedev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday said that, “If a threat to Russia raises above a certain limit of danger, we will have to respond without asking anyone’s consent and holding long consultations.”
“And it’s certainly not a bluff,” he said.
Medvedev is one of Putin’s closest associates and is widely seen as expressing the Russian president’s views. His comments on Tuesday marked the bluntest official warning yet that Moscow is pondering the use of nuclear weapons to halt Ukraine’s push to reclaim Russia-held regions.
Kyiv and its Western allies have dismissed the Kremlin’s nuclear talk as scare tactics.
Medvedev insisted that the right to use nuclear weapons is in line with Russia’s nuclear deterrence doctrine, which states such weapons can be used if the country comes under a nuclear attack, or in case of an aggression with conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence of our state.”
“Let’s imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime that has committed a large-scale act of aggression, which is dangerous for the very existence of our state,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. “I believe that NATO will steer clear from direct meddling in the conflict in that case.”
Voting ends in Russian-occupied regions
The final day of voting began Tuesday in Russia-held regions of Ukraine. The vote is expected to serve as a pretext for their annexation by Moscow but is rejected as a sham by Kyiv and its Western allies.
Security was tight in at least one of the areas where the voting took place: The Ukrainian military’s general staff said that travel in the occupied southern Kherson region “is completely closed for entry and exit.” It did not elaborate.
The Ukrainian military also claimed to have struck seven Ural trucks of the Russian forces in Kherson over the last day.
Tuesday marks the final day in the five days of voting. Authorities in the Russian-occupied areas had said they will open polling stations Tuesday after previously going door to door in some areas, trailed by rifle-carrying troops.
Mysterious gas leaks plague Russian pipelines
Authorities are trying to determine the cause of mysterious leaks and pressure drops affecting gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The problems affecting the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines come as a new pipeline meant to wean Poland and Europe off of Russian gas is to be inaugurated.
Neither Nord Stream 1 nor 2 was being actively used to bring gas from Russia due an energy standoff between Russia and Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, both were filled with natural gas from Russia.
Officials said the leaks did not pose any threat to energy supplies given that Russian is not supplying gas through them, and experts said the environmental impact would be limited.
Putin likely to announce annexation in speech
A planned speech later this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin may see him declare four occupied territories of Ukraine parts of Russia, the British military said Tuesday.
In a daily intelligence briefing, the British Defense Ministry said Putin will address both houses of the Russian parliament on Friday and could declare the annexation of the regions. An internationally criticized vote is underway in the regions and ends Tuesday.
“Russia’s leaders almost certainly hope that any accession announcement will be seen as a vindication of the ‘special military operation’ and will consolidate patriotic support for the conflict,” the British said.
“This aspiration will likely be undermined by the increasing domestic awareness of Russia’s recent battlefield (setbacks) and significant unease about the partial mobilization announced last week.”
Ukraine shoots down Russian drones
The Ukrainian air force’s anti-aircraft command says it has shot down four Iranian-made Shahed-136 suicide drones in Odessa.
The Black Sea port city has been repeatedly targeted in recent days with the Iranian drones now being used by Russia in the war.
Ukrainian officials also said Tuesday that Russian rocket attacks targeted the southern areas of Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv overnight, damaging residential buildings and other sites.
Ukrainian forces push close to key city
Ukrainian forces continue to make gains across the eastern bank of the Oskil River, a new front line in the war since Kyiv’s counteroffensive seized vast swaths of territory earlier this month.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, citing Russian reports, said the Ukrainian military continues to advance north of the city of Lyman in the Donetsk region. Lyman has been a key node for the Russian front.
Ukraine “seeks to encircle Russian forces in Lyman from the northwest,” the institute said.