Putin 'likely to be using Ukrainian nuclear threat as retrospective justification' for war

UK says there has been a 'notable intensification' of accusations coming from Moscow

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces walks past destroyed Russian military vehicles in Ukraine's second-biggest city, Kharkiv, on Monday. AFP

Britain says Russia is likely to be ramping up claims Ukraine is developing nuclear or biological weapons as “retrospective justification” for its invasion.

In its latest intelligence update on Tuesday the Ministry of Defence said there had been a “notable intensification” of nuclear accusations from Moscow since it invaded the former Soviet nation.

President Vladimir Putin on February 27 ordered his military to put nuclear deterrence forces on “special alert”, three days after the invasion was launched.

“Since the end of February there has been a notable intensification of Russian accusations that Ukraine is developing nuclear or biological weapons,” the MoD said.

“These narratives are long standing but are currently likely being amplified as part of retrospective justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Russian President Vladimir Putin feels most threatened by western values spreading to Ukraine.

“President Putin doesn’t like the values that are represented by Nato, the EU and that’s what he’s most angry about,” he told Sky News.

He said the latest tactics employed by the Russian military highlighted their desperation that the attack was not playing out according to plan.

“You can see them getting more desperate because they’re shelling more and more innocent people,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of some Nato member states offering a boost to Ukraine’s air defences by giving them jets, he said Britain would be making such an offer.

He said there are “very few nations” that fly MiG-29s, the planes used by the Ukrainians, therefore Britain and a lot of its allies would not be in a position to swap their own aircraft for similar ones with Ukraine.

However, he said Poland may wish to offer this type of help, and he would support it if it did.

“There are only a few countries that could accept a request by the Ukrainians,” he said. “I would support the Poles in whatever choice they make, whether they choose to or not. Those countries are on the border with Russia and Ukraine to some extent and so we will protect Poland, we’ll help them with anything they need.

“I think Ukraine should have whatever it can have to protect itself and defend itself from this naked Russian aggression.”

The UK government was heavily criticised after it emerged on Sunday only 50 visas for Ukrainians had been granted, after more than 10,000 people applied.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Wallace said 17,000 people had applied, and 300 visas had been granted.

Asked why it was taking so long to get through the applications, he said it is “incredibly important” for authorities to be able to carry out checks on applicants before they arrive in the UK.