Putin 'will trigger world nuclear arms race if he bombs Ukraine'

More countries will arm themselves if Russia carries out threat, says an aide to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky

Vladimir Putin threatened to use 'all available means' to defend Russian territory in a televised address Credit: Gavriil Grigorov /AP

The world will be tipped into a new nuclear arms race if Vladimir Putin is allowed to drop the bomb on Ukraine, a top aide to Volodymyr Zelensky has warned.

Mikhailo Podolyak told The Telegraph it was up to nuclear-armed states like Britain to prevent Russia following through on a threat to strike Ukraine if it attacks newly annexed territory.

"Vladimir Putin has gone to war against a non-nuclear state. He can't win a conventional war so he threatens to use nuclear weapons," Mr Podolyyak said.

"If he gets away with it, every non-nuclear state will say: 'I'm going to get the bomb'."

Mr Podolyak, a key advisor to Ukraine's president, also vowed that Ukraine will continue its counter-offensive despite Russia annexing swathes of Ukraine.

Putin threatened to use "all available means" to defend Russian territory in a televised address on Wednesday in which he also declared partial mobilisation and called referendums on unifying occupied parts of Ukraine with Russia.

The speech was widely seen as a direct threat to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine continued its efforts to retake occupied territory, using the excuse that the four regions where fighting continues are sovereign Russian territory.

Ukraine on Friday said it had already taken back more territory, eating into regions where people are voting to join Russia in the "sham" referendums due to finish over the weekend.

'More countries will arm themselves' 

Mr Podolyak told The Telegraph that members of the global nuclear club including China, a Russian ally, have already told Moscow they would not tolerate a nuclear strike in Ukraine. But said the warnings must be backed by explicit threats of retaliation.

"There is such a risk, and unfortunately it is further provoked by the weak position of the world's nuclear powers," he said. "I do not doubt those talks are going on. That the nuclear powers - including the People's Republic of China - are making those representations.

"The question is the tone of those talks and how clearly they explain the consequences Russia will face if it begins to prepare for a nuclear launch."

As he warned that more countries will begin to arm themselves, he added: "Nuclear weapons will be the only guarantee for national defence. Or, on the contrary: it will be shown you can use the bomb aggressively.

"At that point it is not our problem. It is a global problem. It is a problem for the world's nuclear powers. It is the end of nuclear deterrence."

Mr Podolyak called the voting illegal propaganda meant to test the international community's will to resist nuclear-backed annexations and dampen down domestic criticism of Putin following a series of setbacks including the collapse of the Russian army in the Kharkiv region last month.

Mr Podolyak said the threat would make no difference to Ukraine's war effort, saying the country had no choice but to continue efforts to win the war by conventional means regardless of the nuclear risk.

He made clear that Ukraine's war aims include "going to Crimea", which Russia annexed on the basis of a similar referendum in 2014 and which some Western officials have suggested is an unrealistic goal.  

Looking for a British comparison, he said it was like "parking a tank outside an English pub, walking inside with a gun and asking drinkers 'do you support me?'.

"Of course they'll say yes, because you've got a gun. So he says 'now all of Yorkshire is mine and if you disagree I will use nuclear weapons'."

On Friday night, Oleksiy Gromov, a senior army official, said the village of Yatskivka had been retaken, adding Ukrainian troops had "regained control over positions to the south of Bakhmut".

Yatskivka, about 10km east of Izyum, sits on the eastern bank of the strategic Oskil river, which Kyiv's forces crossed after recapturing swathes of territory in neighbouring Kharkiv region.

Oleksii Hromov, the deputy chief of Ukraine's general staff, said Russian troops have continued to conduct offensive actions to dislodge Ukrainian units from newly liberated positions around Bakhmut, without success.

Bakhmut, a key city with a pre-war population of 70,000 people, is also located in the Donetsk region and has been under Russian attacks for months. Moscow's forces have failed so far to capture it.

Meanwhile, the Donetsk region and three other provinces in Ukraine that are fully or partially controlled by Russia - Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia - are holding votes on whether to be annexed by Moscow.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Russia will regard Ukraine’s attempts to retake Donbas and other territories as attacks on Russia if the referendums provide a “yes”, Russia's Tass news agency reported on Friday.