Lavrov, 71, came to prominence when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, and he immediately gained a reputation as President Vladimir Putin’s brutal, no-nonsense messenger.
“The third world war will be nuclear and destructive,” said Lavrov during an interview. He claimed that Russia would be in “real danger” if Ukraine ever became a nuclear-armed nation.
The foreign minister made this claim a day after alleging that Ukraine had been seeking nuclear weapons during a speech he made at a conference on disarmament with the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Ukraine still has Soviet nuclear technologies and the means of delivery of such weapons,” said Lavrov.
He also used his speech to attack the European Union for participating in a “Russophobic frenzy” in the conflict in Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with thousands of tons of weaponry to fight against the invasion.
There is no clear evidence that Ukraine is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. The country used to have a nuclear arsenal since the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in the country. But when the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for certain guarantees from both the West and Russia. (Related: Russian ambassador to the UN claims his country does not plan to occupy Ukraine.)
Speaking after the conference, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, said: “They cannot attack our freedom. We will fight until the end and we will win.”
“We feel your support, we greatly appreciate all of your support and the steps we have taken today in international Geneva send a very strong signal to the Russian Federation that such actions are not acceptable and not tolerated in the 21st century.”
Russia’s nuclear arsenal is still on high alert
It should be noted that Russia has more nuclear weapons than any other nation on the planet. It has an estimated 6,255 nuclear warheads, with more than 1,500 currently deployed on strategic long-range systems and the rest in reserve. Russia has more nuclear weapons than the rest of the world combined, excluding the United States which, by comparison, has approximately 5,500 nuclear weapons.
The risk of a nuclear conflict breaking out increased last week when Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert. Putin claimed he was doing this defensively and in reaction to “aggressive statements” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as the severe economic sanctions from the West.
Putin earlier warned the world against attempting to intervene in Ukraine and “hindering” the invasion. He said those that do will see “consequences you have never seen in your history.” The mobilization of Russia’s nuclear forces implies that Putin is willing to fire nuclear weapons at countries that intervene militarily to protect Ukraine.
Biden unwilling to respond to Putin’s threats
For his part, President Joe Biden and his administration claimed that Americans should not be worried about the threat of a nuclear war.
“We are assessing President Putin’s directive and at this time, we see no reason to change our own alert levels” in response to the mobilization, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday, Feb.28.
Psaki added that the U.S. will not fight back against Putin by attempting to escalate the rhetoric. “We think provocative rhetoric like this regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, should be avoided and we will not indulge in it.”
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