Vladimir Putin threatens nuclear strikes if West intervenes in Ukraine
Any country trying to intervene in the Ukraine war will face a “lightning-fast” response, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned.
“We have all the tools no-one can boast of… we will use them if necessary”, he said, in what is seen as a reference to ballistic missiles and nuclear arms.
Ukraine’s allies have stepped up the supply of weapons, with the US vowing to make sure Ukraine defeats Russia.
Western officials say Russia is being hampered in its efforts in the east.
Last week, Russia launched a major offensive to seize the Donbas region after withdrawing from areas around the capital Kyiv.
But according to one official, Russian forces are “finding it difficult to overcome the staunch Ukrainian resistance and they are suffering losses”.
In another development, the European Commission has accused Russia of blackmail after Moscow cut off gas exports to Poland and Bulgaria.
The Commission’s President, Ursula von der Leyen said it showed Russia’s “unreliability” as a supplier.
The Kremlin said Russia had been forced into the action by the “unfriendly steps” of Western nations.
Gazprom’s cut-off follows Poland and Bulgaria’s refusal to pay for gas in Russian roubles – a demand made by President Vladimir Putin in March, which was designed to shore up the faltering currency battered by Western sanctions.
Mr Putin made his comments speaking to Russian lawmakers in the northern city of St Petersburg on Wednesday.
“If someone from the outside tries to intervene in Ukraine and create strategic threats for Russia, our response will be lightning fast,” he said.
“We have all the tools [to respond] that no one can boast of. And we will not be bragging about them, we will use them if necessary.”
The Russian leader added that all decisions on what that response would include had already been made – without providing any further details.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, and within days President Putin ordered his military to put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert.
Analysts suggest such threats are an attempt by Mr Putin to warn Ukraine’s allies not to intervene more in the conflict.
President Putin was speaking a day after Western nations held a summit in Germany, promising to ramp up military support for Ukraine.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged to move “heaven and earth” to make sure Ukraine won the war.
There has recently been an increasing number of pledges to increase military support to Ukraine, including Germany’s announcement that it will send 50 anti-aircraft tanks, in a sharp U-turn in policy.
Analysis by Paul Adams (BBC Diplomatic Correspondent)
Western officials have been briefing on the latest in the war and they say Russia has continued to build up forces in and around the Donbas and are making minor gains.
“But when they come up against genuine military objectives, they are finding it difficult to overcome the staunch Ukrainian resistance and they are suffering losses,” an official said.
Heavy rain is also hampering Russian progress. “Russians don’t like to fight in the rain,” an official said, adding that the Russians have poor tactical awareness and continue to suffer from logistical difficulties.
They have the ability to operate off road, but officials say it’s surprising that they still choose not to do so.
Even in places where Ukrainian forces have found themselves encircled, they have managed to resupply their forces “for a surprising length of time”. (Mariupol being the most obvious example).
Officials noted that even in places where Russia has taken ground, Ukrainian forces have shown a “remarkable” ability to counter-attack – sometimes doing it so fast that the Russians quickly find themselves on the back foot.
Ukrainian special forces, operating behind Russian lines, are exploiting the vulnerability of long supply lines, which helps to buy time for Ukraine.