Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian authorities had begun to “prepare their society” for the possible use of nuclear weapons, but added that he did not believe Russia was ready to use them yet.
In an interview with the BBC, Zelensky denied having called for “pre-emptive strikes” by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against Russia. According to the Ukrainian president, his speech, in an online event this Thursday (06/10), was mistranslated.
“Preventive strikes have to be used,” Zelensky said of what he meant, referring to preparations against Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons.
“After this translation,” said President Zelensky, “they [os russos] did what they liked, as it was useful to them, retranslating in other directions.”
The Ukrainian’s speech on Thursday had been described by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as “a call to start another world war”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was proof. that Russia was right to start its offensive in Ukraine.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden said the Russian threat to use nuclear weapons has brought the world closer to “Armageddon” than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War.
Fear over Russian response
In recent weeks, strengthened by sophisticated weapons supplied by Western countries, the Ukrainian army has recaptured large areas in the east and south of the country, in a successful counter-offensive that forced Russian troops to abandon positions conquered some time ago.
In what Kiev sees as Moscow’s reaction to defeats, Russian President Vladimir Putin then incorporated four partially occupied regions of Ukraine.
Zelensky and BBC journalist John Simpson in an interview in Kiev — Photo: BBC
These annexations, considered illegal, have raised fears of a possible escalation in the seven-month war. President Putin and senior Russian officials have suggested that nuclear weapons — possibly smaller, tactical weapons — could be deployed to defend these areas, although Western officials say there is no evidence Moscow is prepared to do so.
Speaking in English at his presidential office in Kiev, President Zelensky told the BBC: “They are starting to prepare their society. This is very dangerous.”
“They’re not ready to do that, to use them (nuclear weapons). But they start to communicate. They don’t know if they’re going to use them or not. But I already think it’s dangerous to talk about it.”
Then, in Ukrainian, he said through a translator: “What we see is that those in power in Russia enjoy life, and therefore I think the risk of using nuclear weapons is not as definite as some experts say, because they (those in power) understand that there is no way to turn things around after using them (the weapons). Not just about their country’s history, but about their own personalities.”
Zelensky said preventive action was needed now as Russia’s threats were a “risk to the entire planet”. Moscow, he said, “has already taken a step” by taking over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe that Putin is trying to turn into Russian ownership.
About 500 Russian troops were in the plant’s area, he said, although a Ukrainian team still operates it.
“The world can urgently stop the actions of the Russian occupiers,” Zelensky said. “The world can implement a sanctions package in these cases and do everything to get them to leave the nuclear plant.”
Putin is afraid of losing power, says Zelensky
Zelensky called for international reaction to prevent an escalation of conflict, with possible use of nuclear weapons – Photo: BBC
Recent setbacks in the Russian offensive in Ukraine, a major embarrassment to President Putin, have provoked unusual criticism of the military in the country.
Amid the losses, President Putin announced the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists, which led to rare anti-war protests in Russia and a massive exodus of men of military age.
Zelensky urged the Russians to “fight for their body, rights and soul”.
“These kids mobilized now, they come with nothing. No weapons or armor. They’re being thrown here like cannon fodder… If they want to be kebabs — fine, let them come. But if they’re people, after all, and think this is their life, they have to fight.”
“All Putin is afraid of is not a nuclear attack, he is afraid of his people,” the Ukrainian president said. “He’s afraid of his people. Because only those people are capable of replacing him these days. Of taking his power away and giving it to someone else.”
Asked whether President Putin could survive an eventual Ukrainian victory in the war, Zelensky replied: “I don’t care.”