An ally of President Vladimir Putin issued a stark new nuclear warning to Ukraine and the West on Tuesday as referendums billed by Russia as a prelude to it annexing four Ukrainian regions entered their fifth and final day.
Moscow’s latest broadside came as European countries rushed to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea which will hinder efforts to restart the main line taking Russian gas to Germany.
The Kremlin, which has blamed technical problems for earlier cuts in Russian gas supplies to Europe, said it could not rule out sabotage, but did not say by whom and called for an investigation.
Read more: Ukrainians fear suffering, political repression awaits them amid Russia referendums
Russia’s confrontation with the West has driven up global inflation and sharpened energy and food crises in many countries since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which was met by tough Western sanctions and Russian retaliatory measures.
Tuesday’s nuclear warning by Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, is one of several issued by Putin and his associates in recent weeks.
Analysts say they are designed to deter Ukraine and the West by hinting at a readiness to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend newly annexed territory, where Russian forces have faced strong Ukrainian counteroffensives in recent weeks.
Medvedev’s warning differed from earlier ones in that he predicted for the first time that the NATO military alliance would not risk a nuclear war and directly enter the Ukraine war even if Moscow struck Ukraine with nuclear weapons.
“I believe that NATO would not directly interfere in the conflict even in this scenario,” Medvedev said in a post on Telegram.
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