RUSSIA issues an extraordinary threat to Europe on Monday, warning it would be willing to turn nuclear weapons on the continent if its demands aren’t met.
Tensions between Russia and the West have escalated dramatically in recent weeks over the increase in aggression from Russia toward Ukraine. Rhetoric has become increasingly hostile this week, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning Russian President Vladimir Putin there would be “significant consequences” if Ukraine was to be invaded.
In an extraordinary uptick in aggression, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Moscow would deploy intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe if NATO failed to rule out using them itself.
Missiles of this nature have a top range of 5,000km and could hit numerous European capitals if deployed from Russia.
INF were banned in 1987 under a treaty signed between Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, and US President Ronald Reagan, though Washington quit the agreement in 2019, citing Russian breaches.
Mr Ryabkov told the state-run RIA Novosti agency that Moscow would “respond militarily” if Nato sought to expand eastwards.
He said: “There will be confrontation, this will be the next step, [previously banned weapons] will appear from our side.”
He denied Russia was planning to invade Ukraine, issuing the threat to NATO and its allies to back off or risk a frightening escalation.
Mr Ryabkov said the Kremlin had a “complete lack of trust” in Nato, which argues there are no new US missiles in Europe and that it is ready to respond to the threat of Russian weapons with a “measured” response.
Last week, US President Joe Biden spoke to Mr Putin to warn him of “economic consequences like you’ve never seen” if he mounted a fresh incursion.
The Russian president has, in turn, been pressing for assurances that NATO will not be expanded to include Ukraine.
This increase in aggressive rhetoric comes after Boris Johnson and EU chiefs warned of “serious consequences” if Ukraine is breached further.
Mr Johnson spoke to Mr Putin by telephone on Monday to warn the president that any destabilising action in Ukraine would be a “strategic mistake”.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “[The PM] reiterated the importance of working through diplomatic channels to de-escalate tensions and identify durable solutions.
“The Prime Minister emphasised the UK’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and warned that any destabilising action would be a strategic mistake that would have significant consequences.”
Over the weekend, G7 foreign ministers met in Liverpool to discuss the situation, which includes Russian troops amassing near the border with Ukraine.
In a statement, the G7 reminded Moscow that “any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law”, pledging to inflict “severe cost” on Russia if it does move against its neighbour.
And on Monday, the EU announced it is imposing sanctions on the Russian Wagner Group of military contractors which has been accused of seeking to destabilise Ukraine.
According to US intelligence, Russia has stationed some 70,000 troops near the border of Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as early as next year.
Moscow has denied it is preparing for an invasion and has accused the government in Kyiv of stoking tensions in the region by deploying new weapons.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in conflict since 2014 when Russian forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Last week, Mr Putin said the Donbas warzone – where Russian-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014 – amounted to “genocide”.