China responds to Putin’s nuclear weapons warning

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Beijing said Wednesday that nuclear powers should “jointly seek de-escalation” following Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia is prepared for a possible nuclear conflict.

“From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready, are constantly in a state of combat readiness,” the Russian leader said in an interview Tuesday when asked by state media whether the country was ready for nuclear war.

Concerns persist over Russia’s potential use of nuclear weapons, particularly during its ongoing war in Ukraine. Putin’s rhetoric and military actions have raised questions about the threshold for using Russia’s nukes in regional conflicts and suggest a strategic leveraging of nuclear capabilities to deter Western involvement.

In the interview, Putin said the nuclear button would be pressed if it was a matter of “the existence of the Russian state.” He pointed out that the U.S. is building boosting its nuclear arsenal but that this “does not mean that it is ready to start a nuclear war tomorrow.”

Russia Nuclear Missile Features In Moscow Parade.
A Russian nuclear missile is seen in Red Square in Moscow on June 24, 2020. Beijing has said that nuclear powers should “jointly seek de-escalation” following Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia is prepared for a…

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

He said a nuclear strike has, so far, not been necessary during the course of the war. A number of Putin lieutenants have floated the idea of a nuclear strike on Ukraine, with National Security Council Deputy Chairman and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev saying this would be necessary if Ukraine successfully ejects Russian forces.

Asked to respond to Putin’s remarks during the Chinese foreign ministry’s press conference on Wednesday, spokesperson Wang Wenbin stressed that a nuclear war “cannot be won and must never be fought”—quoting a line from a rare joint-statement from the five leading nuclear powers in 2022.

“China believes that all nuclear weapon states need to embrace the idea of common security and uphold global strategic balance and stability,” he said, pointing out that Russia, which signed the statement, has also affirmed this belief.

“Under the current circumstances, parties need to take concrete actions and jointly seek de-escalation,” Wang added.

The Chinese foreign ministry and Russian embassy in the U.S. didn’t immediately respond to written requests for comment.

Isolated since its February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow is increasingly interconnected with Beijing economically, politically, and militarily, but the two do not always see eye to eye.

Russian Deputy Foreign Ministry Sergey Ryabkov said Tuesday that while China’s call for a non-first-strike nuclear treaty had “a grain of common sense,” the Kremlin is studying it and requires clarification for the U.S.

China is rapidly expanding its own nuclear arsenal and launch capabilities, with its warhead count expected to rise from around 500 to over 1,000 by the decade’s end.

According to a report released this week by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, China is motivated by concerns over its current capabilities and the potential for a U.S. first strike amid growing bilateral tensions and American nuclear force upgrades.