Russia has begun to "prepare their society" for the possible use of nuclear weapons but is not prepared to use such weapons themselves, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told BBC.
Speaking with the British network's John Simpson on Friday in Kyiv, Zelenskyy denied he had urged for "preemptive" strikes on Russia, claiming that he had been mistranslated and had instead opted for "preemptive kicks" or further "sanctions."
"Mr. President," the British reporter asked, "the Russians are accusing you of saying that you want the West to start preemptive, perhaps nuclear, strikes on Russia. Do you? Is that what you've been saying?"
Zelenskyy responded in English, "They begin to prepare their society. That is very dangerous. They are not ready to use [nuclear weapons], but they begin to communicate."
Simpson asked, "What? You mean prepare society for using a nuclear weapon?"
Zelensky said, "You know it's ... they don't know. You know? They will use, or they will not use. I think it is dangerous even to speak about it."
"I said," Zelenskyy added, explaining previous statements he made calling for "preemptive strikes" on Russia, "you have to do preventive kicks, not attacks. We are not terrorists. We do not fight on another country."
"After that translation," Zelenskyy stated, "they [the Russians] did their way, how it's useful for them, and began to retranslate it in other directions."
Simpson then asked Zelenskyy if he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin "is capable of launching nuclear weapons."
Replying in Ukrainian, Zelenskyy acknowledged that if such a thing is admitted to out loud, it creates "panic" both in Ukraine and in other countries. The Ukrainian president then shifted focus, stating that Putin is not afraid of nuclear weapons but of his own people.
"Everything Putin is afraid of — and it's not the nuclear hit — he is afraid of his community. He's afraid of his people because only those people are capable of replacing him nowadays. Take away his power. Give it to someone else."
Hours after Zelenskyy made his "preemptive" comment on Thursday, President Joe Biden drew parallels to the Cuban missile crisis and warned that the world is on the precipice of nuclear "Armageddon."
"We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis," Biden said at the time. "[Putin's] not joking. I don't think there's any such thing as the ability to easily [use] a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon."
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