Russia’s nuclear capability is “concerning” and cannot be ruled out as Vladimir Putin launched the war on Ukraine to “keep himself in power”, experts have said.
It comes as Russia has recently started repositioning and reinforcing its troops in the east of Ukraine after failing to take control of the capital, Kyiv.
The interim US ambassador to the UK, Philip Reeker, told Kay Burley on Sky News that President Putin is “very unpredictable, has been out of touch, and has miscalculated terribly” over his invasion of Ukraine.
He said Russia’s assault “recalls another era, frankly, when we were brutalised by dictators, by fascists… and Vladimir Putin is doing a good job of repeating some of those historical wrongs”.
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Asked how seriously America takes warnings about the nuclear capability of Russia, he said: “Well, as our director of Central Intelligence, Bill Burns, said in open testimony last week, this is something we have to be concerned about.
“Putin himself has raised this. So certainly it’s something we have to watch very closely, the kind of brutality that Putin has enacted – we’ve seen it before, but it’s hard to imagine what he’s doing.
“And it seems like there’s very little that would stop him, particularly when he makes those kinds of threats.”
On whether Mr Putin is capable of a nuclear strike, Mr Reeker said: “What we need to do is maintain the unity of our alliance in terms of defending our interests and supporting Ukraine in their efforts to protect their sovereignty, their independence and their very lives.
“I recently spoke to a very high politician here in the UK and I said, ‘You know why are we not being tougher with Russia?’ And he said, ‘because he’s got nukes’.”
Mr Reeker ruled out American troops going into Ukraine and says the US will “continue to support the Ukrainian people”, but added: “We are not going to war with Russia.”
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He also said that the Kremlin was “sorely mistaken” in thinking it could “drive a wedge” between NATO members, saying the military alliance has become stronger since the invasion.
Putin was ‘afraid of democracy’
Mr Reeker also praised US President Joe Biden’s “remarkable leadership” and that he never saw Mr Putin for “anything than what he is and what he’s showing himself to be today”.
But he said Mr Biden was “very ready” to work with Mr Putin, and when he came into office he created a “strategic stability dialogue so Putin could raise the issues that seem to concern him”.
He added: “We still can’t see where he feels he has some threat to his security.”
“Knowing what Putin was afraid of was democracy.”
Nuclear weapons ‘cannot be ruled out’
Also, the former British ambassador to Ukraine, Leigh Turner, said it is “very difficult to assess the likelihood” of whether Mr Putin will resort to using nuclear weapons.
He told Kay Burley: “On the one hand, nuclear weapons have not been used in the world since 1945.
“So there is an extraordinarily high threshold, which means that any armed forces will think not once, not twice, but three times before ever lowering the threshold under which nuclear weapons are used. So I would very much hope that it will not happen.
“At the same time, it cannot be ruled out. And if Russia is visibly losing this war, it could be that Putin would authorise their use.”
He added that “we cannot completely rule out the use of nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, although I would hope that that remains quite unlikely”.
Putin launched the war to ‘keep himself in power’
Mr Turner also said it is “essential to keep talking and to try and keep open avenues to prevent more deaths in this incredibly bloody war”.
He said it is vital that Mr Putin has an off-ramp – a way out of the situation – as the Ukrainian people have suffered immensely and are continuing to suffer.
“The difficulty is that it’s almost impossible to see any resolution to this conflict that could satisfy both sides,” he said.
“President Putin launched this war in order to try and keep himself in power and to stop any growth of democracy in Russia.”
He added that Mr Putin would find it very hard to accept any outcome that “doesn’t give Russia more land than it had at the beginning of this conflict”.
US ambassador Mr Reeker said Mr Putin “had an off-ramp at every moment”, adding that the leader is murdering Russian speakers and “bombarding them in a truly medieval way on a daily basis”.
“We see now in the east as he moves again on the Donbas, what is really brutal. So we have to make clear that we see what’s going on, that there has to be responsibility and accountability, but also make clear that diplomacy had always been the option and the answer.”