A former Russian foreign minister has warned that a nuclear war between Russia and Europe is highly likely to happen any day now, due to strained relations between Russia and the West.
Igor Ivanov said the risk of World War 3 is the biggest it has ever been, “The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s.”
Both Russia and the United States have fewer nuclear weapons than in the Cold War period but with just over 7,000 nuclear warheads each, they still have about 90 per cent of world stocks, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Talking at a Brussels event with the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Poland, and a US lawmaker, the ex-politician, said: “We have less nuclear warheads, but the risk of them being used is growing.”
Russia has been warned about intimidating its neighbours with talk about nuclear weapons by NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, voicing concerns among Western officials.
But Mr Ivanov blamed a missile defence shield being set up by the United States in Europe for raising the stakes.
Part of the shield is a site in Poland due to become operational in 2018 which is particularly sensitive for the Kremlin because it brings US capabilities close to Russian borders.
The US and NATO say the shield is designed to protect Europe against Iranian ballistic missiles and is neither targeted at Russia nor capable of downing its missiles.
Referring to Russia’s Baltics territory, Mr Ivanov added: “It can be assured that once the US deploys its missile defence system in Poland, Russia would respond by deploying its own missile defence system in Kaliningrad.”
Mr Ivanov showed further aggressive rhetoric over the situation in Ukraine, saying Europe and Russia have little chance of a broader reconciliation, despite European and NATO diplomats seeking a political solution to the separatist conflict in Ukraine which has slaughtered more than 9,000 people since April 2014.
He said: “The paths of Europe and Russia are seriously diverging and will remain so for a long time, probably for decades to come.”
Russia could not be the eastern flank of a “failed greater Europe”, he insisted.
Mr Ivanov added: “These beautiful plans, we have to forget.”
He finished by saying Russia’s destiny was now as the leader of a great Eurasia stretching from Belarus to the Chinese border.
The former foreign minister’s warnings come just a day after President Putin also issued a thinly-veiled threat to the West.
Mr Putin said his military campaign in Syria, which Russia pulled out of this week in a shock move, had prepared his armed forces for an all-out war within hours if needed.
He said the five-and-a-half-month campaign, which activists say has claimed thousands of civilians lives, demonstrated Russia’s military might.
Daily sorties of Russian fighter jets cost the country 33 billion roubles (£336million).
But Putin insisted the costly operation had been a price worth paying to bolster President Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s influence in the region.
Thanking the armed forces for their service, he declared the operation had provided better training for a future war than any war games on home soil could.