WASHINGTON: High-level Russian military leaders recently discussed when and how they might use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine, the New York Times reported on Wednesday citing unnamed US officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not take part in the discussions, and there was no indication that the Russian military had decided to deploy the weapons, which would sharply escalate the war, the Times said.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said he did not have any comment on the details in the report.
But in a statement sent to AFP he said any comments on the use of nuclear weapons by Russia are "deeply concerning," and said the United States takes them seriously.
At the same time, he said, the US sees "no indications that Russia is making preparations for such use."
The United States has been warning Moscow for weeks over public comments from top Russian officials that they could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine in certain cases, particularly if they felt there was a threat to Russian territorial integrity.
The most recent threat came from former Russian president and senior security council official Dmitry Medvedev.
Medvedev said on Tuesday that Ukraine's objective to reclaim all its territories occupied by Russia, which include the Donbas region and Crimea, would be a "threat to the existence of our state."
That, Medvedev said, would be "a direct reason" to invoke nuclear deterrence.
However, early on Wednesday Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Western media was "deliberately pumping up the topic of the use of nuclear weapons."
Moscow does "not have the slightest intention to take part in this," he said, calling the NYT report "very irresponsible."
In September Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden's national security adviser, said that the United States has warned Russia at "very high levels" of "catastrophic consequences" for using nuclear arms.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on October 13 that Russian forces would be "annihilated" by the West if Putin uses nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
Moscow will "in the near future" summon the British ambassador to hand over "evidence" of its claim that the UK helped orchestrate an attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Russia has claimed UK "specialists" helped Kyiv launch a drone attack on the fleet in Moscow-annexed Crimea at the weekend. Russia has also accused London of being behind September explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
Russian authorities have so far provided no proof to back up their claims.
"The UK ambassador will be summoned and will be given the appropriate materials," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, adding the meeting would take place "in the near future."
"The basic materials will be handed over as evidence to the British side and will also be shown to the general public," she added. The British ambassador to Russia is Deborah Bronnert.
Zakharova said Moscow will publish the "materials" after its meeting with the ambassador.
On Saturday, the Russian army said Ukraine had launched the drones on its fleet "under the leadership of British specialists in the city of Ochakiv" in southern Ukraine.
Moscow added that "according to our information" the same British unit had "taken part in the planning" of September explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea.
The UK says these are "false claims on an epic scale."
Relations between London and Moscow have been deteriorating for years, and Russia considers Britain -- a staunch Ukraine backer -- one of the most hostile Western countries. -- Reuters