Johnson plays down fears of Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson has dismissed fears President Vladimir Putin could launch a tactical nuclear strike if his forces continue to be bogged down in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said the overwhelming support in Russia for the invasion meant Mr Putin had the “political margin for manoeuvre” to back down and withdraw his forces if they fail to breakthrough.

Some analysts have warned a frustrated Russian leader could use his arsenal of low-yield, battlefield nuclear weapons if they suffered further reverses at the hands of the Ukrainians.

Earlier, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the threat of nuclear conflict “should not be under-estimated”.

He accused Nato allies of “pouring oil on the fire” by providing increasingly powerful weaponry to the Ukrainians as he warned against provoking “World War Three”.

However, in an interview with TalkTV, Mr Johnson insisted the situation was not as perilous as had been suggested and that the West did not need to make “concessions” to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

He said: “Given the massive Russian backing for what he is doing, given the apparent obliviousness of the Russian media about what is really happening in Ukraine, the paradox is that Putin has far more political space to back down, to withdraw.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

“There will come a point when you (Putin) say to the Russian people ‘The military technical operation we launched in Ukraine has been accomplished, it has been technically a success’.

“I think he has far more political space than people worry about. People say we have to make a concession, we have to worry about what Putin might do because of the risk of his defeat.

“I think he has got a lot of space, he has got a lot of room for manoeuvre.”

Mr Johnson said Britain and other “sympathetic” countries would continue to supply more Nato-grade weapons, training and intelligence-sharing to the government in Kyiv.

While the Prime Minister insisted he did not want the crisis to escalate beyond Ukraine’s borders, he indicated he was happy to see the Ukrainians use British-made weaponry to strike targets in Russia.

“They are being attacked from within Russia territory. They have a right to protect and defend themselves,” he said.

He added: “We cannot accept the idea that this is some sort of stand-off between Russia and the West.

“Putin’s regime is engaged in a diabolical attempt to crush the life out of the Ukrainian state. What we are doing is helping the Ukrainians to protect themselves.”

Meanwhile, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Britain would providing the Ukrainians with longer-range Brimstone ground attack missiles “in the next few weeks”.

“Recently Ukraine has been asking for longer-range ground attack missiles, and the Government has been exploring if stocks of Brimstone could be released for such purposes,” he told the House of Commons.

“This remains very much in line with our principle of evolving our support to Ukraine as the conflict evolves and their capability requirements change.”

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