Moscow put its strategic nuclear forces on alert last week amid the war in Ukraine, causing ripples across the globe.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned that if a third world war were to occur, it would involve nuclear weapons and be destructive, according to Russian media.
The comments reported by the RIA news agency on Wednesday came a day after he told a Geneva disarmament meeting via video link that neighbouring Ukraine, which Russian invaded last week, had been seeking nuclear weapons.
He did not provide evidence other than saying “Ukraine still has Soviet nuclear technologies and the means of delivery of such weapons.”
Lavrov has also said that Russia would have faced a “real danger” if Ukraine acquired nuclear weapons.
Nuclear forces on high alert
Russian forces attacked Ukraine by land, air and sea, the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II.
The move has been countered by the West with harsh economic sanctions on Russia as well as deliveries of arms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The US government on Tuesday announced a ban on Russian flights in its airspace, following similar moves by the European Union and Canada.
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin put his strategic nuclear forces on alert, causing ripples across the globe and raising the threat the tensions could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.
Putin said his decision came after leading NATO powers made “aggressive statements” while imposing hard-hitting financial sanctions against Russia and himself.
US President Joe Biden played down the threat of Russia’s “dangerous” nuclear mobilisation. Asked if people in the United States should be worried about nuclear war, Biden gave a calm “no” in response.
Russia, according to studies, commands the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has counted 6,255 Russian warheads against 5,550 for the US. China follows far behind with 350 and France with 290.
These figures, although widely accepted, are nevertheless estimates, notably because not all nuclear-capable weapons systems actually carry nuclear warheads, a data which is mostly unclear.