Putin has been hinting he could use nuclear weapons since the beginning of his war in Ukraine. But in recent days the Russian president’s rhetoric has ramped up alarmingly. How seriously should we take his threats? Andrew Roth reports from Moscow

Vladimir Putin proclaimed in a speech on Friday that Russia had annexed four regions of Ukraine, gathering his top officials together to listen to him. He set out not just how he would defend the annexed areas with the usual military force, but made alarming references to the precedent set by the US’s use of nuclear force against Japan in the second world war.

Annexing the four regions sends a signal that Putin is willing to defend these highly contested areas as he would the rest of Russia – with nuclear force. But Russia’s position in the war currently appears weaker, with growing discontent among Russians about Putin’s attempts to mobilise another 300,000 soldiers from the population and amid Ukraine’s recent significant regaining of territory.

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