Russian officials Thursday claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is instigating a nuclear world war after he urged NATO to apply preventive pressure on Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin‘s nuclear threats.
In a video address to the Lowy Institute, a nonpartisan international think tank in Australia, Zelensky called on NATO to launch “preventive strikes, preventive action” so Russia could understand the consequences if it decides to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.
“I am once again turning to the international community as I did before 24 February. Preventative strikes, so that they know what will await them if they use [a nuclear weapon],” Zelensky said in the video. “Reconsider applying pressure – that’s what NATO should do, and reconsider the order in which it is applied.”
Following the speech, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said Zelensky’s remarks were a “call to start a world war.”
“Zelensky’s statements are nothing more than a call to start a world war with unpredictable monstrous consequences,” Peskov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused “the West” of starting a nuclear war with “Zelensky’s hands,” Russian-state media TASS reported.
Serhii Nykyforov, Zelensky’s press secretary, later clarified that the Ukrainian president had only been suggesting nonnuclear steps like sanctions and asserted that only Russia would resort to “blackmail the world” with threats of nuclear weapons.
Zelensky’s remarks come over two weeks after Putin declared that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons in the war to protect Russian territory. At the same time, the Russian president also announced a partial mobilization, calling at least 300,000 reservists with combat experience to fight in the war against Ukraine.
Currently, the Ukrainian forces continue to press ahead and make gains in the south and east amid their counteroffensive operations. Since October, the Ukrainian army has taken back over 150 square miles of land in Kherson Oblast, USA Today reported, citing Ukrainian spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s troops also successfully re-entered the eastern Luhansk region, which is one of the territories Russia forcibly annexed despite it being against international law.