Vladimir Putin has said that he directly ordered his defence minister to make a series of calls to top Nato commanders this week over the potential detonation of a “dirty bomb” in Ukraine.
Russia has escalated its rhetoric in recent weeks by claiming without evidence that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a low-yield radioactive device on its own territory, leading Kyiv and other western observers to consider that Putin may be preparing a “false flag” attack of its own.
In a speech near Moscow, Putin claimed once again that Russia knew “about an incident with a so-called ‘dirty bomb’ being prepared”, and that Russia knew “where, generally, it was being prepared”.
Once again he gave no evidence of the alleged plot, which included the possibility of the device being loaded on to a Tochka-U or other tactical missile, detonated and then “blamed on Russia”.
Kyiv has strongly denied the accusations and said that Russia is using nuclear blackmail in order to try to block support for its successful counteroffensive against the Russian invasion force.
The US president, Joe Biden, on Wednesday said that he had spent “a lot of time” discussing whether Russia may be preparing to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“Let me just say Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” he told reporters. “I’m not guaranteeing that it’s a false-flag operation yet. We don’t know. It would be a serious, serious mistake.”
During his speech at the Valdai Club, a Kremlin-aligned foreign policy thinktank, on Thursday, Putin said that assertions about Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons were meant to scare its supporters by indicating “what a bad country Russia is”.
“We have never said anything about the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia, but only hinted at the statements made by the leaders of western countries,” Putin said in his remarks.
In his remarks he also criticised former UK leader Liz Truss for saying she was “ready to do it” regarding the need for a prime minister to be ready to use nuclear weapons.
“Well, let’s say she blurted out there – the girl seems to be a little out of her mind,” said Putin. “How can you say such things in public?” He also blamed Washington for failing to distance itself from Truss’ remarks.
Putin used the speech as a platform to rail against western countries and their supposed “hegemony”, saying the world faced the “most dangerous” decade since the second world war.
“We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War Two.”
Asked about losses from the war in Ukraine, Putin said: “Of course, we have costs, and first of all it concerns the losses associated with conducting the [war]. I think about it all the time. There are economic losses.”
Putin also claimed that the Russian economy had survived the worst of sanctions levelled against it by the west following the beginning of the war.