Merkel warns West not to be complacent over Putins nuclear threat

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Angela Merkel has warned the West should not dismiss Vladimir Putin’s threats over the war in Ukraine. The former German Chancellor said Western powers should not view Putin’s threats as a bluff.

Her remarks came after the Russian dictator repeated a threat last month to use nuclear weapons to defend his country.

Putin cautioned his warning was not a bluff with some experts saying he could use a tactical nuclear weapon to intimidate the West, force Kyiv to surrender, avoid military defeat or protect his own position.

Ms Merkel, 68, speaking at a ceremony in Munich to mark the 77th anniversary of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, said the war on Ukraine was a profound turning point.

She added: “We would all be well advised to take words seriously and to deal with them seriously and not to classify them as a bluff from the outset.”

The former Chancellor emphasised that lasting peace in Europe can only happen with the inclusion of Russia, adding: “As long as we have not really achieved that, the Cold War is not really over either.”

Fears have grown over a possible dramatic escalation in the seven-month conflict after Russia suffered a series of defeats in the south and east of Ukraine.

Moscow said yesterday (October 6) it remained fully committed to the principle of never allowing a nuclear war to be fought.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing Moscow’s position that a nuclear war must never be fought had not changed.

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Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine has brought the world closer to Armageddon than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mr Biden said the prospect of defeat could make Putin desperate enough to use nuclear weapons, the biggest risk since US President John F Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev faced off over missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Speaking in New York, Mr Biden said: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.”

He warned Putin was not joking when he talked about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military was significantly underperforming in Ukraine.

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Speaking to Australia’s Lowy Institute, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said NATO should use preventive strikes on Russia to preclude its use of nuclear weapons.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced his comments as an appeal to start yet another world war while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Mr Zelensky’s remarks demonstrated why Russia was right to launch its operation.

Kyiv later said Mr Zelensky had been referring to sanctions and not military strikes.

Since Putin proclaimed the annexation of four regions of Ukraine a week ago, Kyiv has recaptured Russia’s main bastion in northern Donetsk and a swathe of territory on the west bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson.

Mr Zelensky said in a video address on Thursday Kyiv’s forces had recaptured more than 195 square miles and dozens of settlements in Kherson this month.

Putin has responded to his losses by ordering the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of reservists in a move which sent thousands of men fleeing the country to escape the draft.

Public criticism of the Russian authorities, once almost unheard of, has become common with Kremlin supporters openly seeking scapegoats and demanding punishment.

Russian news site RBC reported today (October 7) that the Kremlin sacked the commander of its Eastern Military District, Colonel-General Alexander Chaiko. It is the latest reshuffle of top brass amid the string of battlefield reversals.

RBC cited publicly available state registers to report Lieutenant-General Rustam Muradov had been appointed to head the Eastern Military District, which covers troops based in Russia’s Far East, though much of its strength is currently deployed in Ukraine.

Lt Gen Muradov, who was sanctioned by the European Union in February, previously served in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and commanded Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians.

Though the head of Lt Gen Muradov’s native Dagestan region congratulated him on his appointment, neither the Kremlin nor the Russia Defence Ministry immediately confirmed the move.

On Monday, RBC reported the commander of the Western military district, Colonel-General Alexander Zhuravlyov, had been replaced.

The deputy defence minister in charge of logistics, General Dmitry Bulgakov, was replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev last month. He was accused by the EU of orchestrating a siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol early in the war which killed thousands of civilians.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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