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Putin 'highly unlikely' to use nuclear weapons but is not acting in a 'rational' way, says Defence Sec
2 October 2022, 21:57 | Updated: 2 October 2022, 22:24
Vladimir Putin is "highly unlikely" to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine but he is not acting in a "rational" way, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
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The Russian president has issued several stark warnings in recent months, saying he will use "all the means at our disposal" if his country is threatened.
It has been seen as a sign that he could use tactical nuclear weapons in response to attacks on parts of Ukraine he has annexed.
But Mr Wallace played down the prospect, telling a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference that although the use of nuclear weapons was in the Russian military doctrine, it would be unacceptable to Moscow's allies India and China.
He said Mr Putin "was given a very clear sense what is acceptable and unacceptable" in meetings with the Indian and Chinese leaderships.
He added that the Russian leader's actions, from the nerve agent attack in Salisbury to the invasion of Ukraine, were "totally irrational".
It comes after Security minister Tom Tugendhat warned that a call from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for Moscow to use low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be "a very high-consequence decision".
"It is perfectly clear that for almost every country in the world nuclear weapons have been an extraordinary taboo for decades now, and reversing that would be a tragedy for all of us," he said at a separate conference fringe event.
Asked if he could foresee Mr Putin being brought back into the international fold in the longer term, Mr Tugendhat said: "I'd be astonished.
"Never say never, but President Putin has set out an agenda and a path that doesn't suggest any negotiation."
He said the Russian leader would have to recognise the territorial integrity of Ukraine and "stop his campaign of assassinations around Europe".
Mr Wallace is set to join a crisis meeting of northern European nations on Monday to discuss the security of pipelines and undersea cables.
Prime Minister Liz Truss has said a series of explosions which caused major damage to Russia's undersea Nord Stream gas pipelines were "clearly an act of sabotage".
Mr Wallace explained: "I'll be convening, with the Dutch, a virtual joint expeditionary force meeting on Monday.
"So I have to break my timetable tomorrow to meet 10 of the Nordic states about what we're going to do about it because the Nordic states and ourselves are deeply vulnerable to people doing things on our cables and our pipelines.
"So suddenly, that becomes a big issue we have to get to the bottom of, we have to think about what assets we can move to give people reassurance or, indeed, investigate what's going on."
Mr Wallace said the ongoing war in Ukraine had shown the need to make sure stockpiles of equipment and supply chains were protected, as he admitted some supplies were running "fairly low".
However, he said the Russians were suffering badly, in part because some of their suppliers were in Ukraine and had been bombed - a sign of the "strategic genius that President Putin is clearly proving to be".