Vladimir Putin is ‘highly unlikely’ to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, defence secretary Ben Wallace has said.
The Russian president has previously threatened to use ‘all the means at our disposal’ if his country is threatened.
Recent comments by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on the potential use of ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons have also caused global concern.
But at tonight in Birmingham, Mr Wallace played down the prospect.
He told a fringe meeting of 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.
But Mr Wallace added that the Russian leader’s actions, from the nerve agent attack in Salisbury to the invasion of Ukraine, were ‘totally irrational’.
The Tory will join a crisis meeting of northern European nations on Monday to discuss the security of pipelines and undersea cables.
It follows the announcement that the Government has committed to ‘two specialist ships’ with the capability to patrol and protect underwater infrastructure from Russia.
The Kremlin was accused of attacking the Nord Stream pipelines beneath the Baltic Sea, which led to huge methane leaks.
Mr Wallace said today: ‘This week we saw the mysterious damage inflicted to the Nord Stream pipelines. And it should remind us of how fragile our economy and infrastructure is to such hybrid attacks.
‘Our intent is to protect them. Our internet and energy are highly reliant on pipelines and cables. Russia makes no secret of its ability to target such infrastructure.’
Also tonight, security minister Tom Tugendhat warned that calls for Moscow to use low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be ‘a very high-consequence decision’.
The Tory, who was ousted in the recent race to No 10, said: ‘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.
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.’
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