Vladimir Putin and his Kazakhstan counterpart have made a pledge against nuclear arms as the Russian president faces pressure from allies over rhetoric coming from Moscow about the use of such weapons.
Putin signed the declaration at the Kremlin on Monday with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev which included the phrase “there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be unleashed,” according to the Kremlin.
The wording was part of a wider declaration of friendship between Moscow and its former Soviet neighbor in which energy and trade ties were cemented and it reaffirms a 2006 Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone treaty.
But it comes less than a month after Tokayev said in a meeting in the capital of Astana on November 4 that there was a “worrying increase in reference to the use of nuclear weapons.”
“Atomic energy is an outstanding achievement of humankind, which should be used exclusively for the peaceful benefit of our people and not as a destructive weapon,” Tokayev added, according to The Astana Times.
Putin, his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, and former Russian president and current deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, Dmitry Medvedev, have touted Moscow’s nuclear capabilities, hinting that they could be used in its faltering invasion of Ukraine.
On September 21, Putin announced his readiness to use “all available means” to protect the occupied territories of Ukraine, adding “this is not a bluff.” Six days later, Medvedev said on his Telegram social media channel that Russia “has the right to use nuclear weapons if necessary.”
Lavrov has also warned the West not to underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict over Ukraine with more overt threats about atomic weapons a staple on Russian state television.
As Newsweek previously reported, emails from March and April leaked by a whistleblower at Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) revealed that Moscow officials have discussed the potential use of nuclear weapons.
Kazakhstan is only the latest ally of Moscow that has expressed unhappiness with talk of such weapons.
At the ASEAN summit in Cambodia between November 10 and 13, Premier Li Keqiang, head of the Chinese delegation, reportedly called nuclear threats “irresponsible” as he spoke about Beijing’s policy towards Ukraine, Reuters reported.
Despite the close ties Putin has with President Xi Jinping, with China neutral on the war in Ukraine, an unnamed U.S. official said there was “undeniably some discomfort in Beijing about what we’ve seen in terms of reckless rhetoric and activity on the part of Russia.”
The official added that Beijing was “probably both surprised and even a little bit embarrassed by the conduct of Russian military operations.”
In September, a video went viral of Putin telling Xi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that Russia “understands your questions and concerns” about Ukraine, which raised questions about the dynamic of the relationship between Russia and China.
Weifeng Zhong, a China scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said that the faction of the Chinese Community Party (CCP) that Li leads is more focused on the economy.
“But Xi himself has also reportedly warned Putin against using nuclear weapons, and that may have been enough weight on Russia,” he told Newsweek. “Given the close Russian-Chinese ties, the ‘nuclear option’ would further strain Beijing’s relationship with the West, which would mean another unnecessary inconvenience for the CCP given how many economic and political challenges it’s already facing domestically.”
Newsweek reached out to the Kazakh and Chinese foreign ministries for comment.
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