Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council and key ally of President Vladimir Putin, warned on Thursday that defeat for Russia in Ukraine could lead to nuclear conflict.
The former Russian president made the threat in a Telegram post ahead of a key meeting of NATO allies and other nations in Germany, where they are expected to make additional pledges of military support to Kyiv.
“The loss of a nuclear power in a conventional war can provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war,” Medvedev wrote. “Nuclear powers do not lose major conflicts on which their fate depends.
“This should be obvious to anyone. Even to a Western politician who has retained at least some trace of intelligence.”
Medvedev, who served as president of Russia from 2008 to 2012, has struck a bellicose tone during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, repeatedly raising the specter of nuclear conflict.
Last April, he warned of Russian nuclear expansion should Sweden and Finland join NATO, and in September said strategic nuclear weapons could be used to defend territories incorporated into Russia from Ukraine.
His remarks Thursday, while no doubt intended to intimidate NATO partners, also appear to be a rare admission from a senior Russian official that the Kremlin could potentially lose in Ukraine as Moscow’s faltering invasion approaches the 11-month mark.
The nuclear rhetoric comes just days after Moscow said it is planning to increase its armed forces due to the “proxy war” it says the West is waging in Ukraine.
Putin has made similar comments in recent months, saying in December that the conflict is “going to take a while” and warning of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war.
The US has previously warned Russia against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, both through private direct communications, as well as public channels, including at last year’s UN General Assembly.
On Friday, NATO’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group will gather in Germany for a meeting at the US’ Ramstein Air Base, hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, focusing on more military aid for Ukraine.
The Pentagon on Thursday announced a $2.5 billion Ukraine security package as the US and its European allies debate whether to send increasingly sophisticated weaponry to Kyiv, including longer-range missiles that would allow Ukraine to hit targets as far as 200 miles away.
The United Kingdom, Poland, Finland and the Baltic states have all been pushing for NATO members to provide heavier equipment to Kyiv amid what they believe is a key inflection point in the war. Both Ukraine and Russia appear to be gearing up for new offensives, and there are signs that Moscow could be preparing an additional troop mobilization.
But the US and Germany remain in a standoff. German officials have said they won’t send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless the US also sends its M1 Abrams tanks – something the Pentagon has repeatedly said it will not do because of the logistical costs of maintaining them.
Western tanks would represent the most powerful direct offensive weapon provided to Ukraine so far, and if used properly, they could allow Ukraine to retake territory against Russian forces that have had time to dig defensive lines.
Other Russian officials have also issued warnings ahead of the Friday meeting, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying Thursday that discussions by the West about supplying Ukraine with weapons were “extremely dangerous.”
It would “not bode well for European security,” he added.