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Moscow appeared to walk back its imminent threat of deploying a nuclear weapon as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on.
“No one is thinking about using — about even the idea of using a nuclear weapon,” chief spokesman to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said in a Monday night interview with PBS.
Peskov’s comments are a reversal to veiled threats he and other Kremlin officials issued in recent weeks.
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“Any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon,” Peskov said. “We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat.”
The spokesman said he is confident that Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine will be “completed” but drew a distinction between the ongoing conflict and a threat of nuclear war.
“Let’s keep these two things separate,” he said. “[The] existence of the state and special military operation in Ukraine – they have nothing to do with each other.”
Putin threatened “consequences you have never seen in history” in an attempt to warn off the international community from interfering in his campaign when he first announced his invasion last month.
Peskov said he did not think Putin was threatening nuclear warfare but said, “He was quite bold in saying that – do not interfere.”
The threat of a nuclear strike has been at the forefront of international concerns since Russian forces invaded its neighbor and fighting ensued around two of Ukraine’s nuclear sites.
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Russian troops have taken a town near the Chernobyl plant – which was the site of the catastrophic 1986 nuclear disaster – though Ukrainians have continued to manage the site.
Workers warned this week that Russian forces kicked up clouds of radioactive dust after driving their armored vehicles through an area known as the “Red Forest.”
The troops did not have any radiation protection, Reuters first reported.
Europe’s largest nuclear power station, the Zaporizhzhia plant, has also been the target of Russian aggression as it holds six of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), remains concerned by the continued threat of a nuclear accident and headed to the war-torn country on Tuesday.
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“We must act now to help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident,” IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi said in a tweet announcing his successful border crossing into Ukraine.
Grossi is expected to visit a nuclear reactor and discuss safety concerns with senior government officials.