Russia: West must stop 'encouraging provocations' to avoid nuclear disaster

Russian strategic nuclear forces exercises

(Reuters) -Russia said on Wednesday that avoiding a nuclear clash between the world's nuclear powers was its first priority, but accused the West of "encouraging provocations with weapons of mass destruction".

Western capitals have said Moscow is behind a ramping up of nuclear rhetoric since Russia invaded Ukraine in February - most recently by repeatedly accusing Kyiv of planning to use a radioactive "dirty bomb" without offering evidence. Kyiv has denied having any such plan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it feared the five declared nuclear powers were teetering "on the brink of a direct armed conflict" and that the West must stop "encouraging provocations with weapons of mass destruction, which can lead to catastrophic consequences".

"We are strongly convinced that in the current complicated and turbulent situation, caused by irresponsible and impudent actions aimed at undermining our national security, the most immediate task is to avoid any military clash of nuclear powers," the ministry said in a statement.

Moscow said it stood by a joint declaration issued together with the United States, China, Britain and France in January affirming their joint responsibility for avoiding a nuclear war.

"We fully reaffirm our commitment to the joint statement of the five nuclear-weapon states' leaders on the prevention of nuclear war and the avoidance of an arms race from Jan. 3, 2022," the ministry said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared on several occasions to threaten a nuclear strike in connection with the war in Ukraine, and Moscow has repeatedly said its military doctrine permits the use of nuclear weapons if Russia's territorial integrity is under threat.

In September, Putin said he was "not bluffing" when he stated that Russia was prepared to use "all available means" to defend its territory. He also said the United States had created a "precedent" at the end of the Second World War when it dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.

Shortly afterwards, Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechnya region and a key ally of Putin's, called for Russia to use a "low-yield nuclear weapon" in Ukraine.Moscow also frequently accuses Kyiv of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, and alleged at the start of the war that the Western NATO alliance planned to use Ukraine as a bridgehead to threaten Russia - allegations denied by Ukraine and NATO.

(Reporting by Reuters;Editing by Alison Williams)