Extremely dangerous nuclear warning as Putin blackmails Europe

Europeans panic-buy iodine tablets as risk of nuclear war grows

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As Russia’s attacks on Ukraine reach their second week, Putin’s orders for his country’s nuclear forces to be placed on high alert at the beginning of the invasion continue to concern leaders who, filled with fear, narrowly calculate each step they take in support of Kyiv. And that, according to ICAN, is exactly what the Kremlin wanted.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, told AFP in an interview on Tuesday: “The nuclear threat is now being used in an extremely malicious and evil way to illegally invade another country that does not have nuclear weapons.

“Russia is practically using it to blackmail its way into invading Ukraine and no one can intervene.

“Not only is this meant to instil fear in the whole world; it’s also meant to scare anyone from helping in Ukraine.”

The 40-year-old Swede, who has headed the group’s global efforts to ban the weapons of mass destruction since 2013, added: “It’s extremely dangerous.”

Days after Moscow launched the full-scale invasion of its neighbour on February 24, the Russian president sparked alarm as he said on state television: “As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension – illegitimate sanctions that everyone knows about.

“But also the highest-ranking officials of leading NATO countries are allowing themselves to make aggressive statements in relation to our country.

“For this reason, I order the minister of defence and the chief of general staff to put deterrent forces on special combat duty.”

Avril Haines, US Director of National Intelligence, described Putin’s move as “extremely unusual” in an address to the US Congress on Tuesday.

She stressed: “We have not seen a public announcement from the Russians regarding a heightened nuclear alert status since the 1960s.”

Ms Fihn, who alongside Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow accepted the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for ICAN, admitted the use of nuclear weapons “cannot be ruled out” and “we are beginning to fear that it could happen”.

Yet, she said she does not think Putin will materialise his threats.

The ICAN head warned, however, that as tensions soar, “misunderstandings can escalate quickly and we could stumble into nuclear use by accident”.

Describing this as “one of the scariest moments really when it comes to nuclear weapons”, she spoke of the current crisis as a potential “wake-up call” to push countries towards nuclear disarmament.

Ms Fihn claimed: “If we survive this, we’re not going to be so lucky all the time.

“We cannot let countries do this to other countries anymore, (just) because they have nuclear weapons.”

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As Putin moved to frighten the West with claims of “consequences you have never seen before in history”, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the dictator’s remarks were all “about distracting the world and the public from what he’s actually doing in Ukraine”.

As of Tuesday, on day 13 of the war, at least 406 civilians, including 27 children, were killed according to the UN – and another 801, injured.

The figures are likely to be considerably higher, the organisation pointed out.

Kyiv, meanwhile, claimed more than 12,000 Russian soldiers had been killed while 303 tanks, 48 aircraft, 80 helicopters, 1,036 armoured vehicles, 120 cannons, 56 rocket launchers systems and 27 air defence systems belonging to the Kremlin’s army had been destroyed.

On Wednesday, in what has been deemed one of the cruellest attacks yet, some 17 people were wounded after a Russian airstrike reportedly hit a children’s hospital and maternity ward in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The governor of the country’s Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said some of those injured were women in labour and accused Moscow of acting during an agreed ceasefire period that was meant to allow the evacuation of civilians from the region.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a day after announcing the UK would stop importing Russian oil, said: “There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless.

“The UK is exploring more support for Ukraine to defend against airstrikes and we will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes.”

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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