On March 3, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of spreading fears of a nuclear war in the wake of his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking to the Russian and foreign press in Moscow, Lavrov said: “I invite you just to get acquainted with the facts, and not try to pretend that a very Hollywood action movie is developing according to the script that was written by your colleagues, where there is absolute evil and absolute good."
He added: “We are convinced that we are doing the right thing.”
Lavrov is among those that the United States and its European allies have sanctioned for the invasion. He characterized the latest sanctions as “a kind of tax on independence” and said that the West is trying to subordinate the Russian Federation to its "dictatorship," but that Moscow will never submit, Russia’s TASS state news agency reported. He insisted that Russia remains open to peace talks but added that Ukraine’s “demilitarization” will be seen through to the end.
Lavrov also blamed the West for spreading fear of a nuclear war:
"Everyone understands that the Third World War can only be nuclear. But I draw your attention to the fact that nuclear war is constantly spinning in the heads of Western politicians, not in the heads of Russians."
That is false.
In fact, fears of a nuclear war and discussion of such a possibility have been provoked by Lavrov’s boss, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Four days after Putin launched the invasion on February 24, he put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert – what he called a “special regime of combat duty.” His order came during a televised Kremlin meeting with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
"[S]hifts on duty at the command posts of the Strategic Missile Forces, the Northern and Pacific Fleets, and the Long-Range Aviation Command began to carry out combat duty with reinforced personnel," Shoigu reported to Putin, according to Reuters.
The “special regime of combat duty” applies to all components of Russia’s nuclear forces, including those “that oversee land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the fleet of nuclear-capable strategic bombers,” The Associated Press reported.
Polygraph.info asked the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon to comment on Lavrov’s remarks but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Putin’s declaration of a “special regime of combat duty” has prompted worldwide condemnation.
“Provocative rhetoric about nuclear weapons is the height of irresponsibility,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called it “dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric.”
Kris Osborn, defense editor of The National Interest magazine, called Putin’s maneuver “nuclear saber-rattling.”
But others believe Putin is capable of moving further toward nuclear war.
Fiona Hill, who served as a foreign policy adviser to both Democratic and Republican U.S. presidents, was recently asked by Politico magazine: “Do you really think he’ll use a nuclear weapon?"
Hill responded: “Every time you think, ‘No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course. It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared. That’s exactly what he wants us to be. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”
CNN reported that its journalists saw “raw intelligence reports” that described Putin’s behavior as “highly concerning and unpredictable,” and that the Russian leader had “expressed extreme anger” about the Western sanctions.
On February 25, the United States and its Western allies imposed sanctions specifically targeting Vladimir Putin and members of his government.
On March 1, a day after Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, the Russian military held drills involving nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in Siberia.
On March 2, Western nations cut off seven major Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial transactions system, a severe economic sanction.
“The last time nuclear alert levels were raised by the United States or Russia, or the Soviet Union was 48 years ago, when the U.S. raised its level during the Yom Kippur War,” the fourth Arab-Israeli War in 1973, Defenseone.com reported.
U.S. President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials said they saw no reason to respond by escalating U.S. nuclear readiness levels.
Navy Admiral Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told a U.S. congressional hearing on March 1 that the is constantly reviewing and analyzing Russia’s nuclear situation, adding: “I am satisfied with the posture of my forces. I have made no recommendations to make any changes.”
Putin has used threatening bluster about the capabilities of Russia’s weaponry in the past – for example, saying in March 2018 that Russia had developed a new “invincible” ballistic missile, the “Satan.” He demonstrated the weapon in a video simulation projected on a large screen showing the missiles hitting the U.S. state of Florida.
“This is not a bluff,” Putin said after the video was shown.
On March 4, Russian forces occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power site in southeastern Ukraine, after their attack on the facility sparked a fire and fears of a nuclear catastrophe. The site is the largest nuclear power operation in Europe, with six reactors.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the situation “directly threatened the safety of all of Europe.” Authorities said the fire had been extinguished, however, and that radiation levels at the facility remained normal.