'No one is thinking about using' nuclear weapons: Kremlin spokesperson backpedals Vladimir Putin's threats

'No one is thinking about using' nuclear weapons: Kremlin spokesperson backpedals Vladimir Putin's threats
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has rattled his atomic saber on numerous occasions both before and during his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, warning the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies that any attempts to directly interfere with his "special military operation" would result in unprecedented disaster for the alliance. Putin's bluster has raised fears across the globe that nuclear war could be on the horizon.

Kremlin spokesperson and Deputy Chief of Staff Dmitry Peskov has doubled down on Putin's rhetoric, telling CNN's Christiane Amanpour last Tuesday that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in a first strike scenario to protect itself.

But a week is a very long time when a war is going so utterly badly for the aggressor.

On Monday, Peskov tamped down Putin's threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine during an interview with PBS NewsHour. Peskov said that Putin harbors no desire to deploy his massive nuclear arsenal unless it senses an immediate existential threat, although he was mum on what that would potentially entail.

Peskov also stated that Russia has no intention of attacking NATO member nations unless it is goaded into it.

A partial transcript of his conversation with Special Correspondent Ryan Chilcote is below.

Chilcote:

I want to ask you about nuclear weapons and clear some things up.

There's still quite a bit of confusion about Russia's position. We heard yet another official over the weekend, this time former President Dmitry Medvedev, say that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons if it faces an existential threat, even if the other side has not employed nuclear weapons.

So could you please clarify for us what exactly would amount to an existential threat to Russia? For example, if you were unable to achieve your objectives in Ukraine, even though there is no one fighting in Russia, there's no strikes on Russia, could that be perceived as an existential threat?

Peskov:

Well, first of all, we have no doubt that all the objectives of our special military operation in Ukraine will be completed. We have no doubt about that.

But any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon. 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 or the existence of our country.

Peskov:

Let's keep all this — well, let's keep these two things separate, I mean, existence of the state and special military operation in Ukraine. They have nothing to do with each other.

But, at the same time, if you remember the statement of the president when he ordered the operation on the 24th of February, there was a part of his statement warning different states not to interfere in the affairs between Ukraine and Russia during this operation.

He was very strict in his warning, and he was quite tough on that. And I think that everyone understands what he meant.

Chilcote:

Well, he meant that he would use nuclear weapons? He was suggesting he would use nuclear weapons if a third party got involved in the conflict?

Peskov:

No, I don't think so. I don't think so.

But he was quite bold in saying that, do not interfere. If you do that, we will have all the possibilities to prevent that and to punish all those who are going to interfere.

Chilcote:

Look, Mr. Peskov, if you stick to your — the dictionary definition of existential threat that we were discussing, clearly, nothing that is taking place or that is even really, quite frankly, imaginable that could take place could reach that bar of threatening the existence of the Russian state. So, why not just clear this up right now? Why can't you, on behalf of Russia, rule out the use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, right here?

Peskov:

No one is thinking about using, about – even about idea of using a nuclear weapon.

Chilcote:

President Biden also this weekend warned President Putin to not even, as he put it — quote — 'even think about going on one single inch of NATO territory'— close quote.

Can you imagine a situation where Russia would feel it necessary to bomb or send forces into a NATO country during this conflict?

Peskov:

Well, if it is not a reciprocal act, so if they don't make us do that, we cannot think about that. And we do not want to think about that.

Peskov later cautioned, however, that the US should tread carefully with Russia so that it does not "push us into the corner."

The full 12-minute interview is available here.

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