Former British ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton

Former British ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton Former British ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton has said the war in Ukraine is now at a "decisive phase" and the use of nuclear weapons by Russia "cannot be ruled out entirely".

Speaking to Sky's Kay Burley, Sir Tony said Russian forces could succeed in the Donbas region which would give them a "huge negotiating ploy" to use in future negations or could "go again for Kyiv".

However, what was more likely is the battle would get "bogged down" and the two sides would be in for a"long war of attrition", the former ambassador said.

Recalling his previous experiences with President Vladimir Putin, he said: "How I remember him is a very able, focused, not very nice, leader of Russia - driven by the desire to make Russia great again.

"A man who took risks but calculated very carefully before taking them. 

"Very clearly the Putin we are dealing with now is in some significant ways different. He has taken this huge risk of this war."

Sir Tony went on to say Mr Putin had been "brooding" during his isolation amid the COVID pandemic about Ukraine but it looked "very unlikely" he could win on the terms he had set out.

"He's talked a couple of times about going nuclear which would be a very big threshold to cross if he went for it but I wouldn't rule it out entirely if things go very badly wrong for him," he added.

He recounted comments by former US president John F Kennedy, in which he said a nuclear-armed adversary must not be presented with "the choice between total humiliation and nuclear escalation"

"That remains as true today as it was when he said it," Sir Tony said.

"Yes, the Russians have behaved appallingly. Yes, the political feel of dealing with a country which has committed so many atrocities and so many illegalities is going to be very hard. But if the alternative is to move across the nuclear threshold, then we're going to have to bite our tongues a bit and do it."

Addressing the British fighters who were now being held captive by Russian forces, Sir Tony said they would most likely be used as "negotiating material" by the Kremlin.

He said: "We need to make it clear to Putin that indeed their fate will form part of whatever negotiation we end up in. If they are maltreated, then that will form part of our attitude with negotiations.

"But in terms of getting them out quickly, barring a real change of mood on the part of the Russians, I don't think that's likely to happen."

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