'It's better not to mess with Russia': Putin's nuclear warning to West on Ukraine

  • He said Russia's nuclear programme means 'nobody would think of conflict'
  • He also tells rebels to release trapped enemy to 'avoid senseless deaths'
  • He compares Ukraine's sieges of two cities to Nazis' siege of Leningrad  
  • He referred to 'Novorossiya' - or 'New Russia' - as he praised rebel 'success'
  • Kiev said the edict proved that separatists were under Kremlin control 
  • Ukrainian PM announced that country will seek to become member of Nato
  • Putin spoke as Obama said it is 'plain to see' Russian forces are in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin last night pointed to Russia’s nuclear arsenal and warned the West: ‘It’s best not to mess with us’ on Ukraine.

In a menacing intervention, the Russian president denied Nato, British and American reports that Russian forces are operating in eastern Ukraine.

And he warned the West against any attempt to support Ukraine in its efforts to defeat Russian separatists. Speaking at a pro-Kremlin youth camp near Moscow, he said: ‘Russia’s partners... should understand it’s best not to mess with us. 

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Ukrainian servicemen use a brief lull in the conflict to make running repairs on their heavy armour 

Mechanics have field-striped part of the engine and drive components to keep the vehicle running 

Ukraine has appealed to the West for supplies of modern weaponry to help repel any Russian advance 

‘Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.’ 

Mr Putin also launched an astonishing verbal assault on the Ukrainian government, comparing it to the Nazis and saying its actions in the east of the country ‘sadly reminds me of the events of the Second World War, when German fascist... occupiers surrounded our cities’.

Russia is one of five countries which has nuclear weapons as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Mr Putin has the second largest stockpile of warheads in the world – 4,300 according to the latest estimates from the Federation of American Scientists.

Of those, approximately 1,600 are long-range land and sea-based ballistic missiles.

Nato believes that there are at least 1,000 Russian troops now actively engaged in the conflict 

Ukrainian army fires during fighting between militants and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk region. Nato said that it believes that well more than 1,000 regular Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine

The US has an estimated 4,765, Britain has 225, France 300 and China 250. Of other counties thought to have nuclear weapons – India, Pakistan and Israel are thought to have fewer than 100 and North Korea fewer than ten.

British intelligence believes Russia has made a significant incursion into Ukraine, involving at least 1,000 regular troops fighting alongside pro-Russian militias on the ground.

British sources said Russia had supplied 100 battle tanks, 80 armoured personnel carriers, 500 anti-tank weapons and 100 artillery pieces to separatists.

Residents of Mariupol dig trenches and make fortifications with sandbags as they help Ukrainian troops in organising their defence on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol

An Ukrainian soldier digs a trench on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol today. Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia to halt its 'illegal' military actions in Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen repair a part of their MPC inside a military camp in Donetsk

A Ukrainian serviceman sits on a tank while speaking on the phone inside a military camp in Donetsk

Ukraine’s Ambassador at Large Oleksandr Scherba appealed to the West for military help. ‘We want the West to understand Ukraine is fighting Europe’s war,’ he said.

‘There is only one thing that separates your people driving to their jobs and a full relapse into a Cold War – and that is young Ukrainian volunteer soldiers.’ Government sources said David Cameron would press for tough new sanctions on Russia at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels today. But military intervention is not being contemplated.

The crisis in Ukraine is also now set to dominate next week’s Nato summit in Newport, south Wales. 

A Ukrainian serviceman walks past a pile of shells stored inside a hole inside a military camp in Donetsk

Rest: Ukrainian servicemen rest at their military camp near the eastern Ukrainian city of Debalcevo, in Ukraine. Mr Putin today asked pro-Moscow rebels to open a 'humanitarian corridor' to allow Ukrainian soldier who remain hemmed in to the region to go home

Proof: Kiev said Putin's edict proved that separatists were under Kremlin control

Ukraine yesterday said it was seeking Nato membership – a request the military alliance said it would treat ‘respectfully’.

Nato accused Russia of a ‘blatant violation’ of Ukraine’s sovereignty, saying the crisis ‘defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution’. On Thursday the alliance released satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving inside Ukraine last week.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen yesterday said that ‘despite hollow denials’, it was now clear that Russian forces had illegally crossed Ukraine’s border.

Put to work: Prisoners-of-war, who are Ukrainian servicemen captured by pro-Russian separatists, clean a street in Snizhne in the Donetsk region

Held captive: Captured pro-Ukrainian fighter sits in a garage at the Novoazovsk border crossing point, in eastern Ukraine

Mercy: In a statement issued through the Kremlin today, the Russian president told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' in eastern Ukraine to avoid the 'senseless deaths' of trapped Ukrainian troops 

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: ‘All our hopes of de-escalation have been disappointed and the situation is showing signs that it is now out of control.’

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said: ‘If it looks like a war, sounds like a war and kills like a war, it is a war.’ Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt warned: ‘This is the second invasion of Ukraine in a year. We have to call a spade a spade and stop playing around.’

Meanwhile, heavily armed pro-Russia separatists held firm control of the strategic coastal town of Novoazovsk yesterday.

At least half a dozen tanks were seen in the town of about 12,000 people, bearing the flags of Novorossiya, the ‘state’ proclaimed by rebels in two eastern Ukraine regions.

None of the tanks bore Russian markings, but ready-made meals seen nearby had markings showing they were Russian army issue.

Digging in: Civilians dig trenches and make fortifications with sandbags as they assist Ukrainian troops in organising their defence on the outskirts of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol

Battle weary: Armed Ukrainian servicemen comb the area after being shot at by pro-Russian militants at their checkpoint near the small city of Dzerzhynsk, in the Donetsk region

Mercy: In a statement issued through the Kremlin today, Russian president Putin told the separatists to open up a 'humanitarian corridor' through which to release trapped enemy troops to 'avoid senseless deaths'

A woman rides on the back of a truck holding a flag of Novorossiya, a union between the 'Donetsk People's Republic and 'Lugansk People's Republic'. If implemented, that plan would leave Kiev with no Black Sea coastline

'Plain to see': He spoke as President Barack Obama said it was 'plain for the world to see' that Russian forces are now fighting inside Ukraine


This map shows how 'New Russia', now eastern Ukraine, was once part of the Russian Empire

The word 'Novorossiya' literally means 'New Russia' - an imperial-era term for southern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire.

It is now a term used by Russia ultra-nationalists who want to re-conquer the area.

The region was seized by imperial Russia at the end of the 18th century from the Ottoman Empire and remained under its control until the October Revolution and the collapse of the empire in November 1917.

The term implies a giant semi-circle of Ukraine encompassing Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Odessa.

If implemented, that plan would leave Kiev with no Black Sea coastline.

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