UK's James Cleverly warns of 'severe consequences' if Russia uses nuclear weapons

Foreign secretary also urges Moscow to return to the table on the Black Sea grain initiative

A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired as part of a nuclear drill in Plesetsk, north-west Russia. AP
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Russia will face “severe consequences” if its leaders choose to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the British foreign secretary has said.

The warning from James Cleverly comes after reports Moscow may attempt to escalate the conflict by using a “radiological dirty bomb”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is “exacting vengeance” on civilians in Ukraine and low-income countries around the world for his “military failures” by attacking power stations and pulling out of a vital grain export deal, said Mr Cleverly.

His statement comes as newly released British intelligence suggests that many of the soldiers Russia has deployed to the front line in Ukraine in recent weeks are “poorly equipped”, possibly with arms in a “barely usable” condition.

“The House will have noted Putin’s irresponsible talk about nuclear weapons and absurd claims that Ukraine plans to detonate a radiological dirty bomb on its own territory,” Mr Cleverly said in the Commons.

“No other country is talking about nuclear use. No country is threatening Russia or President Putin.

“He should be clear that for the UK and our allies, any use at all of nuclear weapons would fundamentally change the nature of this conflict. There would be severe consequences for Russia.”

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Mr Cleverly also urged Russia to return to the table on the Black Sea grain initiative, a programme to export grain from Ukraine to low-income countries around the world.

“At the weekend, Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea grain initiative, which has allowed the exportation of 100,000 tonnes of food every day, including to some of the least developed countries in the world,” he told the Commons.

“Putin is exacting vengeance for his military failures on the civilians of Ukraine by cutting off their power and water supply, and on the poorest people in the world by threatening their food supplies.”

Mr Cleverly added: “Over 60 per cent of the wheat exported under the Black Sea grain initiative has gone to low and middle-income countries, including Ethiopia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

“It would be unconscionable for those lands to be made to suffer because of Putin’s setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“I urge Russia to stop impeding this vital initiative that is helping feed the hungry across the world and agree to its extension.”

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A Ministry of Defence intelligence update posted on Twitter on Monday said Russia has deployed “several thousand” newly mobilised reservists to the front line since mid-October, but “in many cases they are poorly equipped”, with open source images suggesting they have been issued with rifles of a kind introduced towards the middle of the last century.

“Open source images suggest that those rifles which have been issued to mobilised reservists are typically AKMs, a weapon first introduced in 1959,” the ministry said.

“Many are likely in barely usable condition following poor storage.

“AKM fires 7.62mm ammunition while Russia’s regular combat units are mostly armed with 5.45mm AK-74M or AK-12 rifles.

“The integration of reservists with contract soldiers and combat veterans in Ukraine will mean Russian logisticians will have to push two types of small arms ammunition to frontline positions, rather than one.

“This will likely further complicate Russia’s already strained logistics systems.”

Updated: November 01, 2022, 8:21 AM