Moscow officials have begun preparing citizens for the possible use of nuclear weapons in seized areas of Ukraine, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“They are starting to prepare their society. It is very dangerous,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use “all means at our disposal” to defend what he considers his country’s territory, including the four regions of Ukraine annexed last week.
The Ukrainian leader said: “They are not ready to do it, to use it. But they are starting to communicate. They don’t know if they will use it or not. I think it’s even dangerous to talk about it.
In an interview with the BBC, President Zelensky denied calling for strikes against Russia, saying one of his earlier remarks had been mistranslated.
“You have to use preemptive kicks,” he said, as he called for preemptive penalties, “not attacks.”
Speaking of Russia’s defence, Mr. Putin also cited the use of nuclear weapons by the United States against Japan at the end of World War II.
Mr Putin and Russian officials have suggested that nuclear weapons – possibly smaller tactical weapons – could be used, although Western officials say there is no evidence Moscow is prepared to do so.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Mr Zelensky’s comment on preventive action a “call to start a new world war”.
“After this translation,” Mr. Zelensky said, “they [the Russians] caught on, how it’s useful to them, and started to translate it back in other directions.
He added: “We are not terrorists. We are not fighting in another territory.
“Even our attitude of our society towards the Russians after this invasion, after all these eight years of war, eight years of bloody tragedy – even after that, our attitude towards them, towards society, we are not ready to kill people like the Russians do. ”
Mr Zelensky said action had to be taken now because Russia’s threats posed “a risk to the entire planet”.
He urged the world to apply sanctions to force Mr Putin’s troops out of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.
And he also urged the Russians to “fight for your body, your rights and your soul”, saying: “These children mobilized now, they come without machine guns, without bulletproof vests, they are only fodder for cannon…. if they don’t want to be kebab… they have to fight [for their lives].
“All Putin is afraid of is not a nuclear strike. He is afraid of his society, of his people.
“Because only those people can replace it, strip it of its power and give it to another person.”
A week ago, the Kremlin held a lavish celebration marking the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, claiming they were returning to “the motherland”.