WASHINGTON: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Russia could use nuclear weapons out of desperation as its invasion falters, echoing comments by CIA director William Burns.
Asked about the threat, Zelensky said “all of the world” should be worried that Russia “began to speak about... nuclear weapons or some chemical weapons”.
“They could do it, I mean they can,” he told CNN. “For them, life is nothing... let’s not be afraid -- be ready.” The CIA chief had said on Thursday that Russia’s battlefield setbacks raised the risk that President Vladimir Putin could deploy a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon.
The Kremlin said it had placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the assault began on Feb 24, but the United States says it has not seen any sign of unusual nuclear movements.
Russian military doctrine includes the “escalate to de-escalate” principle of launching a small nuclear weapon to regain the initiative in war.
US President Joe Biden is “deeply concerned about avoiding a third world war, about avoiding a threshold in which nuclear conflict becomes possible”, said William Burns.
In Moscow, a Russian court on Friday ordered the pre-trial detention of a Siberian news editor for alleging that 11 riot police members had refused to join Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, authorities have stepped up measures to silence critics of themilitary operation in Russia’s pro-Western neighbour.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major cases, said the chief editor of a news website in Siberia’s Khakassia region had been placed in pre-trial detention for spreading “deliberately false information”.
If convicted, the journalist faces up to 10 years in prison, investigators said.
Earlier this week investigators raided his apartment and seized $15,000 and over 1,200 euros in cash, the Investigative Committee said.
The Khakassia branch of the Investigative Committee did not release the name of the journalist but he is understood to be Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of “Novyi Fokus” (New Focus), a news website in Khakassia.
In early April, Afanasyev, citing sources, reported that 11 members of Russia’s OMON riot police faced pressure from authorities after refusing to go to Ukraine.
Afanasyev’s report was widely cited on social media, and on Friday Russia’s media regulator blocked the Russian-language website of the independent news outlet The Moscow Times after it cited the report in an article.
Afanasyev, 45, previously said he was not planning to leave Russia.
“I am not going to flee the country, I am stubborn and want to put up a fight,” he told AFP in early April.
Afanasyev is an award-winning editor known for covering sensitive issues in Khakassia. He has for years been embroiled in multiple libel lawsuits over his independent reporting.
Russian authorities have imposed prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading information about the Russian military deemed false by the government.
Since the start of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine independent media outlets in the country have either been shut down or suspended. Reporters Without Borders urged Russian authorities to halt “this witchhunt”.
“After dispatching the national independent press, the Russian authorities are now targeting critical local media outlets by means of the new laws establishing war censorship,” the watchdog said in a statement.