The United States' spy agency says there are no indications showing that Russia could be preparing to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s Director Bill Burns made the remarks to a conference hosted by The Financial Times on Saturday amid a fanfare in the Western media outlets about the alleged possibility.
"We don't see, as an intelligence community, practical evidence at this point of Russian planning for the deployment or even potential use of tactical nuclear weapons," Burns said.
On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.
Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years were suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Speaking on Friday, a senior Russian official said Moscow did not intend to deploy nuclear weapons in the ex-Soviet republic, describing Western media reports to the contrary as “deliberate lies.”
“The scenarios of our potential use of nuclear weapons are clearly prescribed in Russian doctrinal documents. They are not applicable to the implementation of the tasks set in the course of the special military operation in Ukraine,” said Alexey Zaitsev, the Russian foreign ministry deputy spokesman.
“Russia firmly adheres to the principle that there can be no winners in a nuclear war, and it must not be unleashed,” he added.
The CIA director, however, alleged that the United States could not ignore the possibility of deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Ukraine either, citing "the kind of saber-rattling that ... we've heard from the Russian leadership."
"So we stay very sharply focused as an intelligence service ... on those possibilities at a moment when the stakes are very high for Russia," he said.
Russia: High-precision missiles hit airfields in Odesa region
Also on Saturday, Russia's Defense Ministry said it had successfully deployed high-precision missiles against Ukrainian aircraft at airfields in the southern Ukrainian regions of Artsyz, Odesa, and Voznesensk, destroying all of them.
The ministry said its short-range Iskander ballistic missiles had also hit US and European equipment near the northwestern city of Kharkiv.
Earlier on Saturday, Russia accused the United States of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, saying the move amounted to Washington’s direct involvement in military action against Moscow.
Vyacheslav Volodin, who as the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament often voices the Kremlin’s views, made the remarks in a post on his Telegram channel.
“Washington is essentially coordinating and developing military operations, thereby directly participating in military actions against our country,” the Duma chairman said.
He added that foreign advisers had been working in Ukraine since what he called the "coup d'état" in an apparent reference to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s election in 2019.
The United States and its Western allies have stepped up military support for Ukraine, sending a wide array of defensive weapons meant to hold off Russia's advance.
The New York Times, citing US officials, reported on Wednesday that Washington has provided intelligence about Russian units that has helped Ukrainian forces kill many of the Russian generals in the war.
Russia: Operation to evacuate civilians from Azovstal plant over
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, announced completion of an operation to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
In an online posting, the ministry said a total of 51 people had been rescued since the three-day operation started on Thursday, including 18 men, 22 women, and 11 children.
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed the evacuations earlier, saying, “This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over.”
The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday said that humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians from Azovstal were functioning, after the Russian army declared a three-day ceasefire at the site to allow a civilian evacuation from the flashpoint industrial area.
Last month, Moscow said that it had managed to fully seize the city except for Azovstal, a giant fortress-like steel plant.