Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has described the presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe as “unacceptable” to Moscow, warning that Russia will spare no effort to prevent Ukraine from acquiring such lethal weapons.
In a video address to the Geneva conference on disarmament on Tuesday, Lavrov said the presence of US nuclear weapons in a number of European countries was in contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that such weapons must have long been returned back to American soil to prevent a new round of an arms race.
"It is unacceptable for us that, contrary to the fundamental principles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, US nuclear weapons are still present on the territory of some European countries," he told the conference.
Lavrov also censured the practice of the so-called "joint nuclear missions" that involve non-nuclear NATO members.
“The bad practice of joint nuclear missions with the participation of non-nuclear NATO states continues. During such missions, the use of nuclear weapons against Russia is being practiced," the top Russian diplomat said. "US nuclear weapons must have long been returned home, and the corresponding infrastructure in Europe must have long been eliminated."
Lavrov stressed that Russia had always believed that there could be no winners in a nuclear war and that such a war must never happen.
Warning that Russia was doing everything it could to prevent Ukraine from acquiring nuclear weapons, Lavrov said Western powers should refrain from creating military installations in former Soviet states that are not members of NATO.
The Russian foreign minister called on Ukraine to realize the seriousness of the current situation, and said the "neo-Nazi government" in Kiev does not represent the entirety of the Ukrainian people.
In a televised address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine.
The US, along with European allies, has imposed sweeping sanctions against Russian banks and several officials in response to the country’s military campaign in Ukraine. The administration of US President Joe Biden on Friday imposed sanctions on Putin and Lavrov directly, and a day later, the US and European partners agreed to cut certain Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that connects financial institutions around the world.
Kremlin: Russia not to yield to sanctions pressure over Ukraine
Also on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western sanctions would never make Russia change its position on Ukraine, as Russia’s military offensive in its former Soviet neighbor entered its sixth day.
"In general, the USA is an apologist for such sanctions. They are fans of sanctions. Naturally, such a commitment to this practice has now spread to Europe like a bacillus. Probably they consider that with the sanctions, they can change our position. It is obvious that this is out of the question. None of us will change its consequent position," Peskov said.
The Kremlin spokesman said while direct negotiations between Moscow and Kiev had begun, there were no plans for talks between the two countries' presidents.
Peskov also dismissed allegations of Russian strikes on civilian targets and the use of cluster bombs and vacuum bombs as “fake.”
"Russian troops during 'special operation' do not carry out any strikes on civilian infrastructure and a residential area. This is out of the question. It is only about the demilitarization of Ukraine, about military facilities," he added, declining to provide further details on the military situation and the conflict in Ukraine.
China 'deeply regrets' Russia-Ukraine conflict: State media
In another development on Tuesday, the Chinese state media said the country’s foreign minister had spoken with his Ukrainian counterpart and called for a resolution to the crisis through negotiation.
“Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Dmytro Kuleba that Beijing deeply regrets that conflict has broken out between Ukraine and Russia, and is paying extreme attention to the harm suffered by civilians," state broadcaster CCTV reported, adding that Wang had called for the two countries to "find a way to resolve the issue through negotiations."
CCTV quoted Wang as saying that Beijing "supports all constructive international efforts that are conducive towards a political resolution." Kuleba, for his part, said Ukraine "looks forward to China opening mediation in order to realize a ceasefire."
China, which has around 6,000 citizens in Ukraine for work or study, has begun evacuating its nationals from the former Soviet state as fears grow for their safety.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Monday that about 520,000 Ukrainians had fled the country into bordering nations, like Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia, since the start of Russia’s military campaign.