A major Russian general said that nuclear warfare is on the table in the ongoing war with Ukraine, ushering in a new heightened sense of security nearly six months into the conflict.
Major General Valery Vasiliev, according to a Telegram post published on Monday by Ukrainian state nuclear agency Energoatom, said that Russia has mined the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and that he has command of the garrison. Vasiliev bluntly stated that “there will be either Russian land or a scorched desert.”
“We do not hide it from the enemy. We warned them,” Vasiliev said, according to the post. “The enemy knows that the station will be either Russian or no one’s. We are ready for the consequences of this step. And you, warriors-liberators, must understand that we have no other way. And if there is the toughest order, we must fulfill it with honor!”
The threats have reportedly been confirmed by Ukrainian officials—including Andriy Yusov, press representative for Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense—who said Russian military units have taken control of the plant.
The news comes amid reports of Russia damaging three radiation sensors and wounding a worker at the power plant in the second of two attacks this past weekend, according to Al Jazeera.
The shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear facility was deemed “Russian nuclear terror” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It also drew a strong response from Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Grossi, along with other IAEA officials, wanted immediate access to the site to assess damage and safety mechanisms.
“I’m extremely concerned by the shelling at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Grossi said in a statement.
On Monday, a Russian TV panelist on Kremlin-controlled media said that missiles could be fired at the U.S. and U.K.
These are not the first nuclear-based threats to come from Russian officials during the conflict, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly pledged to avoid the prospect of a nuclear disaster that would lead to “no winners.”
“It should never be unleashed, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community,” Putin wrote earlier this month.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson on Monday concurred with Putin in a statement to Newsweek: “We think provocative rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, should be avoided, and we will not indulge in it.”
Dan Rice, a special adviser to the Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said on Friday that Russia is having “more and more difficulties” defeating Ukrainian forces compared to the earlier days of the war that began February 24.
Newsweek reached out to Ukrainian and Russian ministries of defense for comment.