NATO leaders ignoring nuclear war risks – Russian envoy

The US-led military bloc is not taking the threat of nuclear conflict seriously, said Moscow’s ambassador to the United States

Russia’s envoy to the US has warned that NATO powers are not taking the risk of nuclear war with due gravity, claiming that the West, and not Moscow, is driving brinkmanship amid tension rivaling the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Speaking to Newsweek for an interview on Thursday, Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, condemned Western officials for “a flurry of blatant misrepresentation” of Moscow’s nuclear doctrine and an apparent lack of concern about the potential for a civilization-ending thermonuclear exchange. 

“The current generation of NATO politicians clearly does not take the nuclear threat seriously,” Antonov said, adding that because leaders in the military bloc continue to misread the risk of nuclear war, Russian officials “have never stopped our efforts to reach agreements that will guarantee that a catastrophic confrontation will not be unleashed.”

It is our country that in recent years has persistently proposed to American colleagues to affirm that there can be no winners in a nuclear war, thus it should never happen. 

American officials, meanwhile, insist that it is Russia that has upped the nuclear ante, with both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley accusing the country of “nuclear saber-rattling” following a media interview last month with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who argued the risk of atomic war is “serious, real, and we must not underestimate it.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has faced similar allegations after escalating the alert status of Moscow’s nuclear forces soon after launching a “special military operation” in Ukraine in late February. At the time, he said the move was triggered by “aggressive statements” from NATO members and “unfriendly economic actions against our country” – referring to a deluge of Western sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Antonov rejected Austin and Milley’s charges as part of a “baseless… propaganda campaign,” however, and went on to detail Russia’s own nuclear policy, which states such weapons may only be deployed “in response to the use of WMD against Russia and its allies, or in the event of aggression against our country, when the very existence of the state is jeopardized.”

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FILE PHOTO: An RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, in the Arkhangelsk region, Russia, April 21, 2022
Russia warns of nuclear war danger

The envoy’s comments come weeks after former Russian president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev – who now serves as the deputy chair of Moscow’s Security Council – warned of new nuclear deployments in the Baltic region in the event of Nordic states Sweden and Finland being admitted to NATO. Both countries have repeatedly voiced interest in joining, and are expected to file membership applications sometime in the coming weeks. 

Nuclear brinkmanship between Washington and Moscow has steadily increased in recent years. Under the Trump administration, Washington scrapped the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, a key arms control pact inked in the waning days of the Cold War which placed hard limits on American and Soviet nukes and effectively eliminated an entire category of bombs. In addition to an outright prohibition on medium-range missiles, the deal also restricted the number of warheads each side could deploy at any given time and created wide-ranging inspection protocols.

Trump also came close to killing the landmark New START agreement, one of the final remaining arms control deals restraining the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, but his successor managed to salvage the treaty in coordination with Putin. 

During President George W. Bush’s time in office in the early 2000s, Washington also withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (ABM), another measure intended to cut down on the risk of a nuclear exchange with limits on missile defense systems. Though such weapons are ostensibly meant for defensive purposes, ABM superiority achieved by one side could increase the chances of a nuclear-first strike, as leaders may become convinced the systems will avert ‘mutually assured destruction’ and allow for a one-sided victory.

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