Russia warns of ‘mirror’ response to Western nuclear ‘ambiguity’

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of Russia accused NATO of adopting a stance of “strategic uncertainty” toward Russia in an attempt to make it harder for Moscow and warned of retaliating similarly.

Russia issued a stark warning on Friday that it will respond in kind to any perceived nuclear or strategic “ambiguity” from the West over the use of nuclear weapons.

In an interview with the state-run TASS news agency, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused NATO of adopting a stance of “strategic uncertainty” toward Russia in an attempt to make it harder for Moscow to predict how the alliance may react, including with its nuclear arsenal.

The comments are among the Kremlin’s most explicit nuclear warnings since the start of its invasion of Ukraine over two years ago. They suggest Russia could match any nuclear signalling or ambiguous posturing from NATO with reciprocal nuclear moves of its own.

Ryabkov did not elaborate on what specific actions by Western nations might prompt a “mirror” response from Russia or what that response might constitute. However, his remarks appear aimed at underscoring Moscow’s resolve to escalate if it perceives the U.S. and its allies as escalating nuclear rhetoric or alerts.

The harsh rhetoric comes as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine with no diplomatic solution in sight. Both Russia and Ukraine have recently appointed new military leaders to direct what are expected to be potentially climactic offensives in the months ahead.

While the risk of direct conflict between Russia and NATO remains low, nuclear tensions soar high. Russia has previously warned it could resort to battlefield nuclear weapons to defend its territorial claims in Ukraine, which the U.S. and its allies do not recognize.

For its part, NATO insists it has lived up to its commitments of providing only defensive capabilities to Ukraine and not seeking confrontation with Russia. Alliance officials have also reiterated that nuclear use by Russia would fundamentally change the conflict and carry severe consequences.

However, with mistrust deepening and communication channels narrowing, Ryabkov’s warning highlights the risk that Moscow could misinterpret conventional military signals or planning as preparations for potential nuclear use by NATO.

Both sides have strong incentives to prevent the crisis from escalating to the nuclear realm. But Ryabkov’s loaded comments demonstrate an increasingly tenuous situation where miscalculation or misunderstanding over nuclear forces could have catastrophic results.