A top Kremlin official warned the West not to “underestimate” the risk of the war in Ukraine escalating into a nuclear conflict. "I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it,” said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in an interview on Monday. Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia remains committed to the principle of avoiding nuclear war. “This is our key position on which we base everything. The risks now are considerable," he said.
CIA chief William Burns cautioned earlier this month that Russia could resort to using low-yield nuclear weapons if backed into a corner by Ukraine, which is being buoyed by unprecedented western arms transfers.
Lavrov expressed frustration over the state of peace talks with Ukraine. He accused Kyiv of being controlled by the West, suggesting that a meaningful peace deal to end the war can only be reached with Washington, not Kyiv. But the United States is more interested in waging a “proxy war” against Russia in Ukraine than negotiating a settlement, Lavrov claimed. "The United States has practically ceased all contacts simply because we were obliged to defend Russians in Ukraine," he lamented, reiterating the rationale that Russia initiated the war to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region from alleged atrocities at the hands of the Ukrainian military.
Lavrov reiterated the claim, made repeatedly by top Kremlin officials since the start of the war, that Russia views Western arms shipments to Ukraine as “legitimate” military targets. "These weapons will be a legitimate target for Russia's military acting within the context of the special operation," Lavrov said. Top U.S. officials previously expressed surprise that the supply lines being used to funnel Western weapons to Ukraine are not being targeted more actively by the Russian military. That now appears to be changing; news emerged earlier this week that Russia struck five railway stations in western and central Ukraine with the aim of disrupting foreign arms shipments. "Storage facilities in western Ukraine have been targeted more than once [by Russian forces]. How can it be otherwise? NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war,” Lavrov said.
London played down Lavrov’s concerns over a potential nuclear conflict. "Lavrov's trademark over the course of 15 years or so that he has been the Russian foreign secretary has been that sort of bravado. I don't think that right now there is an imminent threat of escalation," said British armed forces minister James Heappey in an interview, according to Reuters. "What the West is doing to support its allies in Ukraine is very well calibrated,” said Heappey, characterizing the threat of nuclear escalation as “vanishingly small.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.