Liz Truss has dismissed Vladimir Putin’s nuclear rhetoric as “bogus threats”.
The prime minister said the West should not listen to Putin’s “sabre-rattling” following his address to the nation on Wednesday in which he pledged to use “all means” at his disposal to protect Russia’s territory. "I’m not bluffing," Putin said.
But Truss, speaking to CNN’s State of the Union programme in an interview released on Sunday, said: “We should not be listening to his sabre-rattling and his bogus threats.
“Instead, what we need to do is continue to put sanctions on Russia and continue to support the Ukrainians because if Putin is allowed to succeed… it also would send a message to other authoritarian regimes around the world that it’s somehow acceptable to… invade a sovereign nation.
Watch: Former Russian PM predicts the collapse of the Putin regime (from Wednesday)
“So this is why it’s so important that we continue to be resolute, we don’t listen to the sabre-rattling that we’re hearing from Putin, and we continue to back the Ukrainians to the hilt.”
As Yahoo News UK reported on Friday, propagandists appearing on Russian state TV are saying nuclear war appears to be “a given” and that “everyone will be destroyed” if the West “pushes us into a corner”.
Putin first propagated the spectre of nuclear war shortly after he launched the invasion of Ukraine in late February, putting Russia's nuclear forces on "special" alert following the West's so-called "unfriendly" response in the form of sanctions.
Following his latest comments on Wednesday, Nigel Gould-Davies, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the likelihood of nuclear war remains low - but “higher than it was because there are fewer alternatives [for Putin in Ukraine]”.
This comes amid Russia’s continued struggles in Ukraine, with Ukrainian forces having regained thousands of square metres of territory this month.
It’s in this context that Tory backbenchers urged the government to see the nuclear threat as genuine, with defence minister James Heappey also using the phrase “sabre-rattling” when discussing Putin’s rhetoric in the House of Commons on Thursday.
Former defence minister Liam Fox warned: “We have miscalculated with Putin before. We can’t afford to miscalculate again."
Fellow backbencher Bob Seely also urged: “We have to assume that he may well use them [nuclear weapons] so that we can plan. That is the purpose of assuming use, so we can plan. To say he is bluffing means that we don’t have a plan.”