Exclusive: NATO chief calls Putin’s nuclear threat a ‘dangerous’ escalation

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NEW YORK, Sept 21 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled threat to use nuclear weapons after Russian setbacks in Ukraine was “dangerous and reckless rhetoric”, the NATO secretary general said on Wednesday. adding that the only way to end the war was to prove that Moscow will not win on the battlefield.

Jens Stoltenberg also told Reuters in an interview that Putin’s announcement of Russia’s first military mobilization since World War II would escalate the conflict and cost more lives. But, the NATO chief added, it also represented proof that Putin had made a “big mistake” with Russia’s decision to invade its neighbor on February 24.

Stoltenberg, speaking to Reuters editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni in New York on the sidelines of the annual meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, said the 30-nation Western defense alliance would remain calm and “not not engage in that same kind of reckless and dangerous nuclear rhetoric.” as President Putin.”

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“The only way to end this war is to prove that President Putin will not win on the battlefield. When he realizes this, he will have to sit down and negotiate a reasonable agreement with Ukraine” , Stoltenberg said.

In an address to Russians earlier, Putin announced he would call up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine and backed a plan to annex parts of the country, hinting to the West he was ready to use weapons nuclear weapons to defend Russia. Read more

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said.

Russia has “a lot of weapons to fight back”, Putin added.

Putin’s speech follows mounting battlefield casualties and setbacks for Russian forces, which were driven out of areas they had captured in northeastern Ukraine during a counter-attack. Ukrainian offensive this month and are bogged down in the south.

“President Putin’s speech demonstrates that the war is not going according to President Putin’s plans,” Stoltenberg said.

“He made a big mistake, a strategic mistake,” Stoltenberg said of Putin, while making a grim prediction.

“More troops will escalate the conflict. That will mean more suffering, more loss of life – Ukrainian lives, but also Russian lives,” Stoltenberg said.

Putin said, without providing any evidence, that officials from NATO member states had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Russia and that Russia “also has various means of destruction”.

NATO has seen no change in Russia’s nuclear posture and readiness, Stoltenberg said, but added that the key was to prevent such an escalation.

“We will ensure that there is no misunderstanding in Moscow about the seriousness of the use of nuclear weapons. … And that is why we have been so clear in our communications with Russia about the unprecedented consequences, about the fact that nuclear war cannot be won by Russia.”


Stoltenberg said that even though Russian troops were ill-equipped and lacked proper command and control, it was hard to see the conflict ending in the short term as long as Russia refused to accept Ukraine as a sovereign nation and independent.

Stoltenberg said he is confident that the Western alliance will remain united throughout the process.

“We are ready for a tough winter. Winter is coming, it’s going to be tough for all of us. But the answer is not to quit and stop supporting Ukraine. The answer, if any, is to ‘step up and continue to support Ukraine,’ Stoltenberg added.

While NATO was prepared for a “long run” against Putin, it was now in close dialogue with the defense industry to replenish its stockpiles of arms and ammunition, Stoltenberg said.

“We’ve reduced a lot of inventory. We need inventory prepared. That’s why we’re now engaging deeply with the industry,” Stoltenberg said, aiming to ramp up production.

Stoltenberg again expressed confidence that the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, which applied to join the alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would be ratified, so even though Turkey continued to express its concerns in this regard.

NATO does not view China as an adversary, Stoltenberg said, but has expressed growing concern over Beijing’s increasingly close cooperation with Moscow on military exercises and in the diplomatic arena.

“China is part of the security challenges we face today,” Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg, who previously served as Norway’s prime minister, has served as NATO’s secretary general since 2014. NATO allies in March extended his tenure in the post until September 2023.

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in New York and John Chalmers in Brussels; Written by John Chalmers; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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