A former key adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Britain with nuclear strikes in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, shortly after Moscow announced a widespread mobilization of troops.
“In Russia there’s partial mobilization and for your British listeners Vladimir Putin told you that he would be ready to use nuclear weapons against Western countries, including nuclear weapons against Great Britain,” Sergei Markov told the BBC.
“Your cities will be targeted,” said the former Russian lawmaker, who serves as a key public defender of the Kremlin to the international press.
“Everybody in the world now is thinking of nuclear war,” Markov said, claiming that a potential escalation would be due to the “crazy behavior” of US President Joe Biden, as well the former and current British prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
“Biden, Johnson and Truss are fully responsible for the war in Ukraine,” he claimed, nearly seven months after Russia invaded its neighbor.
“It was absolutely clear that Russia has no war against Ukraine, Russia has no reason to use technical nuclear weapons against Ukrainians,” Markov said.
“Ukrainians are our brothers but Ukraine is occupied by Western countries and it’s Western countries fighting against the Russian army using Ukrainian soldiers as slaves,” Markov said. “[This] was the main idea of Vladimir Putin’s [speech], that’s why we need to have this partial mobilization.”
“Russia does not want everybody in the world to die, but what Russia wants is to solve this war with Western countries conducted against Russia on Ukrainian territory, which Western countries in fact occupy,” Markov said.
In response to Markov’s threat, Foreign Officer minister Gillian Keegan said “talk of nuclear war is completely unhelpful.”
Markov’s comments came hours after Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia, in a measure that appeared to be an admission that Moscow’s war against Ukraine isn’t going according to plan after nearly seven months of fighting.
It’s the first mobilization in Russia since World War II and comes amid recent battlefield losses for the Kremlin’s forces.
Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, said Wednesday that 5,937 Russian soldiers have died in the Ukraine conflict, far lower than Western estimates that Russia has lost tens of thousands.
Shoigu said Moscow was “fighting not so much Ukraine as the collective West” in Ukraine.
Putin, in a seven-minute televised address to the nation aired on Wednesday morning, also warned the West that he isn’t bluffing over using all the means at his disposal to protect Russia’s territory, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Russia’s nuclear capability.
Putin has previously warned the West not to push Russia against the wall and has rebuked NATO countries for supplying weapons to help Ukraine.
In his address, which was far shorter than previous speeches about the Ukraine war, Putin accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”
He didn’t identify who had made such comments.
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.
He added: “It’s not a bluff.”
Putin said that through its support for Ukraine the West was trying to “weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country.”
The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, officials said.
Even a partial mobilization is likely to increase dismay, and perhaps sow doubt, among Russians about the war in Ukraine.
Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a sharp spike in demand for plane tickets abroad, even though far fewer of those have been available since the start of the war and they are much more expensive than before.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on whether Russia would close its borders to stop those eligible for mobilization from fleeing the country.
Only those with relevant combat and service experience will be mobilized, Shoigu said. He added that there are around 25 million people who fit this criteria, but only around 1% of them will be mobilized.
A clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts and leaving service until the partial mobilization is no longer in place.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s move as “an admission that his invasion is failing.”
“He and his defense minister have sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and badly led,” Wallace said in a statement. “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community are united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
Putin’s announcement came against the backdrop of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has been the target of broad international criticism that has kept up intense diplomatic pressure on Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is due to address the gathering in a prerecorded address on Wednesday. Putin didn’t travel to New York.
The partial mobilization order came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia — a move that could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes.
The referendums, which have been expected to take place since the first months of the war, will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
The ballots are all but certain to go Moscow’s way.