The West has warned that nuclear threats by Vladimir Putin should be taken seriously but that they will not be intimated with NATO allies scheduled to carry out a joint nuclear deterrence exercise next month.
The Russian President has said he is willing to use "all means available" to protect Russian territories, including the four parts of Ukraine that were illegally annexed earlier this month following sham referendums.
In Europe, the threat is deemed "serious" by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
"And at the same time, as with any of his quotes, we're not being blackmailed by what he says. We have a very clear stance on how we want to proceed," she stressed last week.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia owns 5,977 nuclear warheads — the highest tally in the world although about 1,500 are retired warheads awaiting dismantlement.
Some 1,588 are deployed which means they have been placed on missiles or are located on bases with operational forces.
In Europe, France and the UK are the only countries with nuclear weapons. Together they are estimated to have 515 nuclear warheads, of which 400 are deployed, according to SIPRI.
The US also has an estimated 100 nuclear warheads stored across Europe on air bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, according to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. These are among the 5,428 nuclear warheads the US owns, of which 3,708 are operational, with the rest meant to be dismantled.
NATO will next week proceed with its annual week-long nuclear deterrence "Steadfast Noon" joint exercises despite the Russian threats with Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to NATO stressing that "it is not in response to what's happening in Ukraine."
"Nuclear deterrence is a key feature of NATO's defence and deterrence posture. As such, the allies do conduct these types of exercises on a regular basis. And so this is not out of cycle."
"This is something that NATO would be doing irrespective of what's happening on the ground inside Ukraine," she told Euronews.