Russia has dismissed the "utterly unfounded" speculations that it may use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, saying it would only use its nuclear arsenal in response to "direct aggression" by NATO countries over the ongoing conflict in the former Soviet state.
Russian diplomat Alexander Trofimov made the remark at the Tenth Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was held at the United Nations on Tuesday.
He said the conflict in Ukraine did not warrant Russia's use of nuclear weapons, but Moscow could decide to use them in response to the use of weapons of mass destruction or a conventional weapon attack that threatened the existence of the Russian state.
"None of these two hypothetical scenarios is relevant to the situation in Ukraine," the Russian diplomat said.
Trofimov further accused NATO countries of a "fierce hybrid confrontation" against Russia that now "dangerously balances on the edge of open military clash."
"Such a move would be able to trigger one of the two emergency scenarios described in our doctrine," he said. "We obviously stand for preventing this, but if Western countries try to test our resolve, Russia will not back down."
Russia began the military offensive in Ukraine on February 24. Since then, the United States and its Western allies have stepped up military support for Ukraine, sending a wide array of weapons to the country.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that the United States was directly involved in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Russia has also previously accused the United States of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, saying the move amounts to Washington's direct involvement in military action against Moscow.
Nuclear arms control talks hinge on US's goodwill: Russia
Separately on Tuesday, Russia said it was ready for talks with the United States on nuclear arms control, despite the ongoing standoff between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.
Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the announcement a day after US President Joe Biden said Washington was open to talks on a new arms control deal to replace the New START treaty after it expires in 2026.
Peskov said such negotiations were long overdue, emphasizing that, "Moscow has repeatedly spoken about the necessity to start such talks as soon as possible as there is little time left."
"If the treaty expires without being replaced with a solid deal, it will negatively impact global security and stability, primarily in the areas of arms control," he added.
Peskov further noted that Russia had called for an early launch of the talks, but "until that moment, it has been the US that has shown no interest in substantive contacts on the issue."
He also stressed that negotiations on a new arms control pact could only be held "on the basis of mutual respect and taking into account mutual concerns."
In a statement on Monday, Biden voiced readiness to "expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026." However, he said Russia's "brutal aggression" against Ukraine "has shattered peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on fundamental tenets of international order."
"In this context, Russia should demonstrate that it is ready to resume work on nuclear arms control with the United States," he added.
New START was inked between Washington and Moscow in 2010 under Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, the then-presidents of the US and Russia. Moscow and Washington agreed to extend the New START treaty in early 2021.
The treaty allows the two states to have no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. It also envisages a strict compliance verification process. Moscow and Washington hadn't started discussions about the pact's possible replacement until Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February.