Russia must understand it can “never win a nuclear war”, the head of NATO has said.
Responding to a question from Sky News correspondent Mark Stone, Jens Stoltenberg also said Moscow must stop its “dangerous, irresponsible nuclear rhetoric”.
A few days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, President Vladimir Putin said he was putting his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert.
Mr Stoltenberg was speaking ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit tomorrow.
US President Joe Biden has landed in Brussels, where he is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia.
It appears likely that NATO leaders will agree the deployment of four new battle groups on the alliance’s eastern flank in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
“I expect leaders will agree to strengthen NATO’s posture in all domains, with major increases in the eastern part of the
alliance on land, in the air and at sea,” Mr Stoltenberg said during a news conference.
The additions will increase the number of multinational groups along NATO’s eastern fringe to eight, building on existing forces in the Baltic countries and Poland.
Ukraine live updates: Putin adviser quits government and ‘flees Russia’
Other key developments:
• A US defence official has told Reuters that Russia’s combat power in Ukraine has declined below 90% of its pre-invasion levels for the first time since the war began, suggesting heavy losses
• A ceasefire is in force in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine – where Russian-backed separatists are in control – to evacuate civilians trapped by fighting, the local governor says
• The United Nations says it has recorded 953 civilian deaths and 1,557 injuries among Ukrainians, while millions of people have fled their homes
• ‘Most frightening thing is the world will forget Mariupol’: Those fleeing tell their stories
Moscow, meanwhile, has expressed concerns about Polish proposals for a new peacekeeping force in Ukraine.
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the idea could lead to a “direct clash between the Russian and NATO armed forces that everyone has not only tried to avoid but said should not take place in principle”.
President Biden has previously warned of the potential for “World War Three” should Western nations engage in direct combat with Russia.
His Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the US had formally “assessed” that members of Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
He said Washington had seen “numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities”.
Mr Blinken continued: “Russia’s forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centres and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded.”
In another development on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed the Chernobyl exclusion zone was being used by Russian forces to prepare fresh attacks.
Moscow seized the decommissioned plant at the beginning of the almost month-long war. The exclusion zone is the contaminated area around it, where the world’s worst nuclear meltdown happened in 1986.
Mr Zelenskyy issued his warning – without citing evidence – during a virtual speech to the Japanese parliament this morning.
He has also addressed the French parliament, calling on several French companies, including carmaker Renault, supermarket chain Auchan and home improvement giant Leroy Merlin to leave Russia.
They must “stop being sponsors of Russia’s war machine”, he told the National Assembly. The companies did not immediately comment.
And he called for more French military assistance, so that “liberty does not slip away”.
President Zelenskyy said later on Wednesday that Boris Johnson had offered “assurances of his support” ahead of the NATO summit.
The two men discussed the “course of hostilities and defence assistance to Ukraine”, Mr Zelenskyy tweeted, adding: “We will win together.”
On the ground, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said one person had been killed and two wounded in shelling in the capital on Wednesday.
Briefing reporters, he said almost all of Irpin, a town northwest of Kyiv, is in Ukranian hands.
The western town of Makariv has also been taken back by Ukranian troops, he added.
Some 264 civilians, including four children, have been killed by Russian forces in the capital since the invasion began last month, he said.
Peacekeeping mission idea ‘dangerous’, says Kremlin
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov echoed Mr Lavrov’s warning and said Poland’s idea of a peacekeeping mission under NATO or a wider international structure was reckless and extremely dangerous.
“Any possible confrontation between our troops and NATO forces could have clear consequences that would be hard to repair,” he told reporters.
Russia would only use nuclear weapons if there is an ‘existential threat’
Earlier, Mr Peskov told CNN that Russia’s security policy dictates it would only use nuclear weapons if its existence was threatened.
“If it is an existential threat for our country, then it (the nuclear arsenal) can be used in accordance with our concept,” he said.
He told the TASS news agency that “no one” had ever thought the operation in Ukraine would take just a couple of days.
Russian invasion has stalled, says UK’s MoD
Russian forces are still stalled around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, but they have made some progress in the south and east of the country.
The battlefield across northern Ukraine remains “largely static” with Russian forces likely reorganising themselves before resuming large-scale offensive operations, according to British military intelligence.
“Russian forces are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east of the country as they advance from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south,” said the UK’s Ministry of Defence in its latest update.
“Russian forces are still attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa.”
It comes as Moscow denied the invasion has stalled, with Mr Peskov reiterating Vladimir Putin’s main goals remain to “get rid of the military potential of Ukraine” and ensure it “changes from an anti-Russian centre to a neutral country”.
Asked on CNN what the Russian president has achieved in Ukraine, Mr Peskov said: “Well, first of all not yet. He hasn’t achieved yet.” However, he insisted the military operation was going “strictly in accordance with the plans and purposes that were established beforehand”.
Putin adviser ‘quits over Ukraine war and leaves Russia’
Russian climate envoy and personal adviser to President Putin has reportedly resigned and left the country, citing his opposition to the war in Ukraine.
Anatoly Chubais, a veteran reformer, left his post as Mr Putin’s special representative for ties with international organisations, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency.
He is the highest-profile figure to step down since the war began.
The 66-year-old once served as former president Boris Yeltsin’s chief of staff.
He was charged with “achieving goals of sustainable development” in 2020 – days after resigning as the head of state technology firm RUSNANO which he had run since 2008.
Russia hits arms depot in Ukraine, Moscow says
An arms depot in the western Ukrainian city of Rivne has been hit, Russia’s defence ministry has said.
It said it used high-precision weapons and fired from the sea in the attack. Missile launchers on the outskirts of Kyiv have also been struck, officials added.
Sky News has not verified the claims.
Nine humanitarian corridors agreed for Wednesday
Agreement has been reached with Russia to try to evacuate civilians trapped in Ukrainian towns and cities through nine “humanitarian corridors” today, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said.
But in an apparent signal that no safe passage had been agreed from the heart of Mariupol, she said people wanting to get out of the besieged port city would find transport in nearby Berdyansk.
More than 100 children have died, claims Ukraine
Around 121 children have been killed in the conflict so far, the office of the prosecutor general in Ukraine has said.
It added 167 others had been wounded in the war, in a Telegram post.
These claims have not been independently verified by Sky News.
The invasion has driven more than 10 million people from their homes – almost a quarter of Ukraine’s population, according to the United Nations.
It says nearly 3.4 million people have fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries since the war began.
Putin’s troops hit by supply problems
Russian forces – bogged down by supply problems and low morale among troops – have met an outgunned but determined resistance in the capital Kyiv and other cities including Kharkiv.
Moscow – increasingly isolated from the rest of the world through financial sanctions – has accused Kyiv of stalling peace talks by making proposals unacceptable for Russia. Ukraine has said it is willing to negotiate but will not surrender or accept Russian ultimatums.
It has increased fears Russia could resort to more desperate measures, such as chemical weapons or even nuclear war.
President Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would start selling gas to “unfriendly countries” in roubles, after a freeze on the country’s assets by foreign nations had destroyed Moscow’s trust.
The changes would only affect the currency of payment and that the government and central bank have been given a week to come up with a solution on how to move the operations to the Russian currency.
NATO chief warns against use of chemical weapons
Any use of chemical weapons would have “far-reaching consequences” and “totally change the nature of the conflict”, the NATO Secretary General has warned, adding: “It would be a blatant violation of international law.”
Mr Stoltenberg also accused Belarus of being “complicit” in the Russian invasion by allowing its military airfields to be used by Russian forces to launch attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilians, and its territory for massing troops.
Earlier, when asked about fears Russia may use chemical weapons in Ukraine as he departed for Europe to attend a NATO summit tomorrow, Mr Biden said: “I think it’s a real threat.”