Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed fears Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would start a nuclear war if the West joins Ukraine’s defense.
“I think that the threat of nuclear war is a bluff,” Zelenskyy told German newspaper Die Zeit in a written interview. “It’s one thing to be a murderer. It’s another to commit suicide. Every use of nuclear weapons means the end for all sides, not just for the person using them. Rather, Putin’s threat shows a weakness. You only threaten the use of nuclear weapons when nothing else is working.”
Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert on Feb. 27 in response to economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., U.K. and the E.U., among other countries. Since then, the U.S. and the U.K. have gone further by banning imports of Russian oil and gas. Europe, heavily dependent on Russian energy, has so far resisted calls for a similar ban.
Still, Zelenskyy said the sanctions were not enough to stop Putin.
“If they were, the offensive would have stopped already,” Zelenskyy told Die Zeit. “Russian oil and gas are still being bought. Western companies still operate on the Russian market while hiding behind various excuses.”
He also sounded the alarm for other neighboring countries, including Georgia, Moldova, and the Baltic states, which he said could be next on Russia’s target list. This fear is shared by Western officials.
“In fact, the entire continent is in danger as long as Russia is able to attack another country,” Zelenskyy said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied Russia was a threat.
“We are not planning to attack other countries,” Lavrov told a Turkish reporter, according to The New York Times. “We didn’t attack Ukraine, either.”
The White House has said repeatedly that the U.S. would not commit troops or other military assistance to Ukraine that Putin might view as an escalation.
But the U.S. is concerned that Russia could deploy chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine following the Kremlin’s allegations that the U.S. was running biowarfare labs in the country.
“We should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.
The use of chemical and biological weapons is banned under the 1925 Geneva protocol.
Zelenskyy has accused Russia of committing war crimes by attacking civilian targets. The bombing of a maternity hospital Wednesday killed at least three people.
“The invasion was no surprise to me,” Zelenskyy told Die Zeit. “But the brutality was. What the Russian soldiers are doing to the civilians is more than I can comprehend. The bombs they’re dropping on apartment buildings. The missile systems they’re using to shell residential areas. Those are war crimes.”