Four territories seized from Ukraine are under the protection of nuclear arsenals. The Kremlin said this in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the Reuters report, the Kremlin made such a statement at a moment of intense tension. The Kremlin’s statement comes as both NATO and Russia are expected to hold military exercises soon to test the readiness of their nuclear weapons forces.

Asked whether the areas were under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ‘All these areas are an integral part of the Russian Federation and they are protected like the rest of Russia.’

President Vladimir Putin said last month that Moscow was ready to use nuclear weapons if necessary to protect Russia’s “territorial integrity”. US President Joe Biden said on October 6 that his threat brought the world closer to ‘Armageddon’ than at any time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when many feared a nuclear war could be imminent.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been going on for almost eight months. Some analysts believe that Putin is more likely to use nuclear weapons as his military has suffered a series of major defeats. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, a Putin ally, warned the West last week against cornering Russia.

Other analysts say the nuclear risk has been overstated. Such a decision would be suicidal for Putin.

NATO is conducting nuclear preparedness exercises this week. They believe Russia will soon hold its own nuclear drills. But Peskov said he had no information on this.

He said, ‘There is an established system of notifications to inform about the conduct of events and this is done through the channels of the Ministry of Defence.’

Putin announced last month that the territories Moscow is wresting from Ukraine will be part of Russia ‘forever’. But Russia does not fully control any of the four regions and has yet to define their borders.

Ukraine, its Western allies and an overwhelming majority of countries in the UN General Assembly condemned the annexation as illegal.

Russia lost control of the four territories after claiming control of them in a lavish Kremlin ceremony on September 30. Work is still underway to integrate them into Russia’s legal, economic and security systems, Peskov said.

(October 18)