VLADIMIR PUTIN could pull the trigger on nuclear weapons if Russia feels threatened by NATO forces and the “consequences would be catastrophic”, a military arms expert has warned.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director at the Arms Control Association, said the risk of a direct Russia-NATO military conflict, which could “quickly escalate to the nuclear level” is “significant”. He told Express.co.uk the Russian despot “might consider going nuclear” if the Kremlin “thought an attack from the US or NATO was underway” following his illegal invasion of neighbouring country, Ukraine.
Mr Kimball also outlined the devastating consequences of nuclear war, warning there would be “more than 100 million casualties in the first few hours” and “health, financial, and economic systems would collapse around the globe”.
He said of all-out nuclear war: “The risk remains relatively low but it is much higher than it has been in more than 30 years and the consequences would be catastrophic.
“So long as NATO and Russian forces don’t begin fighting each other, the risk of nuclear escalation may be kept in check.
Russia’s nuclear threat is rising (Image: GETTY )
Putin launched an illegal invasion on Ukraine in February (Image: GETTY )
“But a close encounter between NATO and Russian warplanes – which would result if NATO imposed a “no fly zone” over Ukraine’s airspace – could become a flashpoint that leads to a direct and wider conflict.
“So long as US or NATO forces and personnel do not become directly engaged in trying to expel Russia from Ukrainian territory, Russia is not going to attack the United States or the US.
“It is clear from Russia’s actions and statements that Putin does not want a wider war with NATO, which is already facing military obstacles and setbacks. Still, the risk of a direct Russia-NATO military conflict, which could quickly escalate to the nuclear level, is significant.”
Direct Russia-NATO military conflict could quickly escalate to the nuclear (Image: GETTY )
Mr Kimball urged NATO to resist the temptation of introducing new offensive strike weapons or reintroducing “once-banned intermediate-range missiles, which can reach their targets in minutes and with little warning” as to not provoke Putin.
He said: “Russia and NATO member states will need to avoid the temptation to introduce new offensive strike weapons, particularly nuclear weapons.
“For example, the offer from Russia’s client state, Belarus, to host Russian nuclear weapons, if pursued by Putin, would further undermine Russian and European security, and increase the risk of nuclear war.
“It would also be highly destabilising if NATO and/or Russia reintroduce once-banned intermediate-range missiles, which can reach their targets in minutes and with little warning.”
It comes after Putin raised fears he would be willing to use nuclear weapons if provoked by flaunting what is said by some as “the most destructive weapon on Earth”.
The “Satan 2” nuclear missile can travel at hypersonic speeds and reach parts of Europe in seconds.While, Russian state television have repeatedly bragged about “wiping the UK off the map” with a single strike.
Mr Kimball cited analysis by Princeton’s Programme on Science and Global Security on what would happen if Russian or NATO leaders chose to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict in Europe.
He said: “After an initial volley of ‘tactical’ nuclear detonations, it could escalate and involve a massive exchange of thermonuclear weapons involving Russia’s arsenal of some 1,450 strategic warheads and the US arsenal of 1,350 strategic warheads on its missiles and bombers.