US warns Russia of ‘catastrophic’ consequences of nuclear strike

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New York: The United States has warned Russia privately of “catastrophic” consequences if it uses nuclear weapons as part of the Ukraine invasion, top US officials said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a thinly veiled threat to use nuclear arms in a speech Wednesday in which he announced the mobilization of reservists following Ukrainian gains on the ground.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview broadcast Sunday, confirmed reports that the United States has sent private warnings to Russia to steer clear of nuclear war.

“We have been very clear with the Russians publicly, and, as well as privately, to stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons,” Blinken told in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific. And we’ve made that very clear,” Blinken said.

“Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic effects for, of course, the country using them, but for many others as well.”

CNN reported on Friday that the State Department was involved in conveying the warnings, and the U.S. may have also relied on sensitive intelligence channels to communicate to the Russians.

The report comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stark warning that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons as he and his proxies prepared to hold polls in separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff,” Putin said.

The polls, denounced as a “sham” by the U.S. and its allies, began on Friday and are slated to run through Tuesday.

Separatist-controlled Luhansk, as well as Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which are partly under Russian control, announced plans for the referendums earlier in the week.

Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, said in a separate interview Sunday that the United States has warned Russia at “very high levels” of “catastrophic consequences” for using nuclear arms.

The United States and its allies would “respond decisively,” Sullivan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“We have been clear and specific about what that will entail.”

Russia and the United States are the world’s largest nuclear weapons powers but separate from the threats of planetary destruction, Russian military doctrine permits the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to force an enemy to retreat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked at a news conference Saturday at the United Nations about Putin’s comments, said only that Moscow’s doctrine “is an open document.”

No country has used nuclear weapons on the battlefield except the United States in 1945, when it destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 200,000 people. Imperial Japan surrendered days later, ending World War II.