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UN chief: Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine war would 'probably' kill us all

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 8/8/2022 Joel Gehrke
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A much discussed Russian option to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine would lead to a global conflagration, according to the United Nations chief.

“I believe that if nuclear weapons will be used, there is probably no U.N. able to respond anymore,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “We might all not be here anymore.”

Guterres offered that assessment while traveling in Japan to observe the anniversary of the United States's use of an atomic bomb to destroy Hiroshima during the Second World War. International anxiety about the Kremlin’s potential to use weapons of mass destruction has festered for months, as the U.S. and European states have equipped Ukrainian forces to thwart the main objectives of the invading Russian forces while tempering the weapons transfers in a bid to avoid Russian retaliation.

“In Hiroshima, I made two concrete asks: First, ask [the] nuclear-armed countries to commit to no-first-use of nuclear weapons and ask nuclear-armed countries never to use or threaten non-nuclear-armed countries with the use of nuclear weapons, with full transparency in relation to their arsenals,” Guterres said. “I hope these asks will be taken seriously because we are witnessing a radicalization in the geopolitical situation that makes the risk of a nuclear war again something we cannot completely forget.”


The value of “no-first-use” policies is a subject of debate among American policymakers, as the formal pledge not to be the first country to use a nuclear weapon in a conflict could lead other countries to believe they can win a war if the U.S. doesn't have a strong enough conventional military presence in a given conflict zone.

Scenarios involving a Russian nuclear strike have derived plausibility from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intermittent references to Moscow’s nuclear arsenal, as well as the NATO member-state assessments that the Kremlin has embraced a theory that so-called tactical nuclear weapons could be used in Europe without provoking a nuclear retaliation from the U.S. And as the war has unfolded, Ukraine’s battlefield successes have raised the possibility that Kyiv can launch counterattacks to reclaim territory lost in the first weeks of the war.

“The Ukrainians are starting to put some pressure down south, and the Russians have been forced to redeploy their forces down there,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters at the Pentagon. “So yes, both sides are taking casualties, the war is the most intense conventional conflict in Europe since the Second World War, but the Ukrainians have a lot of advantages, not the least of which their will to fight.”

Guterres, fresh off brokering a deal to allow for the resumption of grain shipments out of blockaded Ukrainian ports, cast doubt on the idea that this limited agreement might lead to an end of the fighting.

“The difficult thing in relation to a ceasefire comes from a simple fact: Ukraine cannot accept a situation in which its territory is taken by another country, and the Russian Federation doesn't seem ready to accept that the areas that Russian forces have taken will not be annexed by Russian Federation or give way to new independent states,” Guterres said. “So these two positions, at the present moment, are not possible to conciliate.”

A Kremlin proxy in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region — home to one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world, a facility currently occupied by Russia — announced Monday that he plans to hold “a referendum on the Zaporizhzhia region’s reunification with Russia.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has rejected these “pseudo-referendums in the occupied areas,” saying that the attempt to carve the territory away will preclude peace talks.

“The position of our state remains the same: We will not give up anything of ours, and if the occupiers follow the path of these pseudo-referendums, they will close for themselves any possibility of negotiations with Ukraine and the free world, which the Russian side will definitely need in a certain moment,” he said Sunday.

The prospect of a radiological catastrophe arose on Saturday around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Russian troops are “using the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken alleged last week, and the warring parties blamed each other for explosions near the plant.

“There is no such nation in the world that can feel safe when a terrorist state fires at a nuclear plant,” Zelensky said Sunday. “God forbid, if something irreparable happens, no one will stop the wind that will spread the radioactive contamination. Therefore, a principled response of the international community to these Russian attacks on the Zaporizhzhia NPP — the largest in Europe — is needed right now.”

Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the plant as a means of “taking all of Europe hostage” to their war aims.

"The Ukrainians are taking aim at themselves,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Monday. "We regularly send the IAEA updated information ‘from the scene,’ which is reflected in the information circulars of the agency, which clearly expose the criminal actions of the Ukrainian armed forces, the command of which has completely lost the ability to think straight.”

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi invokes the Ukrainian government energy agency as its primary source of information on the facility.

“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would amount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” Grossi said Saturday. "And I condemn any violent acts carried out at or near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant or against its staff. The Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian occupation must be able to carry out their important duties without threats or pressure undermining not only their own safety but also that of the facility itself.”

Guterres, the U.N. chief, backed Grossi’s push for the IAEA watchdogs to inspect the occupied facility.


“Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” he said. “And I hope that those attacks will end. And, at the same time, I hope that the IAEA will be able to have access to the plant.”


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Tags: Nuclear Weapons, News, Foreign Policy, National Security, Russia, Ukraine, War in Ukraine

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: UN chief: Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine war would 'probably' kill us all


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