Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said that the AUKUS defence pact, unveiled by the US, UK and Australia last year, has the potential to become a political, as well as military alliance. The trilateral alliance was established in 2021 to “deepen diplomatic, security, and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region”, the three countries said in a statement.
A key part of the agreement was the commitment from the US and the UK to provide nuclear-powered submarines to the Australian navy, and was widely understood to be an effort to combat China’s influence in the region.
Speaking at the Moscow international security conference, Shoigu then referenced the New START Treaty between the US and Russia, due for renewal in 2026.
Shoigu said that talks between the nations to extend the treaty came at a time when the US-Russia nuclear dynamic was “not easy”, and negotiations would be a “two-way street”.
The treaty, otherwise known as the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, is touted by the US as enhancing “U.S. national security by placing verifiable limits on all Russian deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons”.
This comes shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Western countries, such as the US and UK, were working to roll out a “NATO-like system” across the Asia-Pacific region.
He added that the US was looking to “drag out” the conflict in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has long sought to stop the nuclear alliance’s influence moving eastward towards its borders.
Shoigu then claimed military operations carried out by Ukrainian fighters were being planned by the UK and the US.
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Shortly after ordering the invasion, Putin placed Moscow’s nuclear arsenal on high alert.
Late on Monday, Ukraine called for fresh sanctions on Russia’s nuclear capabilities after renewed shelling on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
Both sides have blamed one another for fires and explosions at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, which is controlled by Russia but operated by Ukrainian staff.
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in his nightly address: “If through Russia’s actions a catastrophe occurs, the consequences could hit those who for the moment are silent.”
He added: “If now the world does not show strength and decisiveness to defend one nuclear power station, it will mean that the world has lost.”
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has expressed grave concerns over the safety of the plant, pleading for an inspection visit.
Mr Zelensky said Russian soldiers at the nuclear power plant would become “special targets” for Ukrainian forces.