Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement “on the prevention of nuclear war” on Wednesday, calling on other nuclear powers to “abandon dangerous attempts to infringe on each other’s vital interests, balancing on the brink of direct armed conflict and encouraging provocations” with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Such provocations, the ministry said, “can lead to catastrophic consequences.”

In referencing nuclear powers, Russia was specifically referring to five countries—China, Russia, the U.K, the U.S. and France—that committed in a January joint statement to preventing nuclear war and reducing “strategic risks.”

In its Wednesday statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry detailed its nuclear doctrine that states Russia can hypothetically use nuclear weapons “only in response to aggression carried out with the use of WMD, or aggression with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is threatened.” It also said that Russia is guided by the notion that nuclear war “must never be unleashed” since “there can be no winners.”

The statement came as the conflict in Ukraine exceeds 250 days and Western nations like the U.S. continue to assist the war-torn country with weapons, defensive equipment and other supplies. Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the U.S. for alleged interference in the war over its continued efforts to aid Ukraine, but the backlash has so far failed to stop the support.

Russian Foreign Ministry's Warning
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during the 6th CICA Summit on October 13, 2022, in Astana, Kazakhstan. Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday calling on other nuclear powers to “abandon dangerous attempts to infringe on each other’s vital interests.”CONTRIBUTOR/GETTY IMAGES
Russian officials and state media pundits have repeatedly issued veiled or blatant nuclear threats against Ukraine and the U.S., spurring fears of a disastrous nuclear war. One of the most direct of such threats came from Putin himself, who said in September that he was willing to respond to what he described as the West’s “nuclear blackmail” by using his country’s own weapons.

In light of Russia’s Foreign Ministry releasing the statement on nuclear war prevention, Jonathan Katz, the director of Democracy Initiatives and a senior fellow with The German Marshall Fund, told Newsweek that he thinks “there’s a clear effort by Moscow to ramp up nuclear rhetoric” and to “drive a wedge between allies and Ukraine.”

“They believe there are receptive audiences to this type of messaging. So, you’re constantly seeing Russia working this issue and others in an attempt to see where cracks may lie,” Katz said.

He added that Russia clearly feels that nuclear rhetoric can help them achieve objectives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Russia using nuclear weapons is a given. Last week, Putin tried to downplay concerns by saying that Russia saw “no need” to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. But contradictory statements from other Russian officials “raise the specter of the use of these weapons,” Katz said.

Western aid has yet to dry up over Russia’s use of this nuclear rhetoric, Katz continued, but Western officials still seem to be taking the warnings seriously. When Russia last month accused Ukraine of planning to use a dirty bomb on its own territory and then blame Putin’s regime, the foreign ministers of France, the U.K. and the U.S. made a point to speak with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over the allegations.

Michael Kimmage, professor and chair of the Catholic University of America’s history department, told Newsweek that in the Foreign Ministry’s statement, Russia may have been “walking back the sort of pretty extreme rhetoric Putin had put forward a few days and weeks ago where he seemed to be sort of doing the nuclear saber rattling.”