Moscow has claimed that Vladimir Putin decided to put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert following statements from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
According to the Interfax news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a news briefing: “Statements were made by various representatives at various levels on possible altercations or even collisions and clashes between NATO and Russia.
“We believe that such statements are absolutely unacceptable.
“I would not call the authors of these statements by name, although it was the British foreign minister.”
Key developments in the Ukraine crisis:
• Russia’s attack ‘not on schedule’ and ‘in some significant areas of disarray’ – defence secretary
• ‘Dozens killed in mass shelling’ as both sides hold peace talks
• Russia hikes key interest rate to 20% after rouble sinks to record low
• Roman Abramovich trying to find ‘peaceful resolution’ to Ukraine invasion, spokesman says
It is not clear which specific comments the Kremlin is referring to.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the Kremlin’s latest comments were “very unhelpful”, adding: “They should stop talking in those terms and deescalate the situation.”
Putin criticises ‘aggressive statements’
Making the announcement on Sunday, the Russian president said: “As you can see, not only do Western countries take unfriendly measures against our country in the economic dimension – illegitimate sanctions that everyone knows about.
“But also the highest-ranking officials of leading NATO countries are allowing themselves to make aggressive statements in relation to our country.
“For this reason I order the minister of defence and the chief of general staff to put deterrent forces on special combat duty.”
Russia’s announcement dismissed as a ‘distraction’
British and US officials have played down the significance of the announcement as it is unclear how Putin’s order changes Russia’s nuclear posture.
The prime minister has dismissed it as a “distraction” from Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine, with the country’s troops encountering fierce resistance.
Responding to the move, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Putin’s comments are “about distracting the world and the public from what he’s actually doing in Ukraine”.
Mr Wallace told Sky News: “It doesn’t link to anything specific in their readiness structures of their forces.
“We keep it under review, but of course NATO has a nuclear deterrent, the United Kingdom is NATO’s nuclear deterrent… and we keep our readiness very high.
“That’s why we have a continued at sea deterrent. But… we shouldn’t really forget that this is a big attempt to distract away from his troubles in Ukraine by just deploying into the sort of media space these phrases.”
Mr Wallace said for security reasons, he was unable to comment on the details of the UK’s nuclear readiness.