The Threat of Nuclear War Should Not Be 'Underestimated,' Kremlin Says

Russia's top diplomat has cautioned those who "underestimate" the possibility of the Ukraine war sparking a nuclear conflict, saying that the threat is "serious."

In an interview aired on Russian state-run television on Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that avoiding nuclear conflict was one of Russia's "key" positions, while warning that "considerable" risks remained as the assault on Ukraine reaches into its third month.

"This is our key position on which we base everything. The risks now are considerable," Lavrov said, according to a translation from Reuters. "I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that."

"The danger is serious, real," he added. "And we must not underestimate it."

Sergei Lavrov Russia Ukraine War Nuclear Weapons
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday warned that there was a "serious" threat of a conflict involving nuclear weapons. Lavrov is pictured during a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on April 8, 2022. ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP/Getty

In early March, one week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Lavrov warned that a destructive conflict involving nuclear weapons would happen if World War III were to take place, according to Reuters.

Concerns about the potential use of nuclear weapons in Europe have risen due to the Kremlin putting its nuclear arsenal on a heightened state of alert and highlighting its capabilities amid the Ukraine conflict.

Lavrov stressed that the Russian military would use "conventional weapons only" in Ukraine during an interview with India Today last week.

However, some experts have suggested that the situation could change drastically if the war were to stretch outside of Ukrainian borders, particularly if NATO forces were to engage.

"If NATO enforced a no-fly zone and started shooting down Russian planes, I could see Putin responding with a tactical nuclear strike against a NATO airbase," retired Lt. Col. Bill Astore, ex-professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy, said in recent comments to Newsweek.

"That would risk a wider nuclear war, truly a horrifying scenario, which is why those who are calling for NATO escalation and direct involvement in the war are being irresponsible," he continued.

Last week, Russia's Ministry of Defense announced that it had conducted a successful test launch of its nuclear-capable, intercontinental ballistic missile RS-28 Sarmat, also known as "Satan 2."

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted in a statement that the test represented "a big, momentous event in the development of advanced weapons systems for the Russian Army," insisting that the missile had "no analogues in the world and will not have any for a long time to come."

"This truly unique weapon will force all who are trying to threaten our country in the heat of frenzied, aggressive rhetoric to think twice," Putin later said on Russian television.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby noted that the U.S. had been informed of the test in advance due to the New START treaty with Russia, describing the "routine" launch as "not a surprise" and not "a threat to the United States or its allies."

During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe days later, Kirby blasted Russian state-run television for discussing a hypothetical nuclear attack on the U.S., calling it "reckless and irresponsible rhetoric coming from a nuclear power."

Newsweek reached out to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C., and the Russian government for comment.