Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Saturday urged Moscow to consider deploying low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine after Russian forces retreated from the city of Lyman.
In a post shared on Telegram, Kadyrov said he believes "more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons."
Kadyrov is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appointed him to govern restive Chechnya in 2007.
The comments came after Russia lost its stronghold of Lyman in eastern Ukraine following a massive offensive from Ukraine.
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Russia has the largest atomic arsenal in the world, including low-yield tactical nuclear weapons designed for use against opposing armies.
Other top Putin allies, including former president Dmitry Medvedev, have floated the idea that Russia may need to use nuclear weapons, but Kadyrov's suggestion was the most explicit.
Putin said last week he was not bluffing when he vowed to use "all available means" to defend Russia's "territorial integrity." The U.S. has said it would respond decisively to any use of nuclear weapons and has threatened "catastrophic consequences" if Moscow deployed the weapons.
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Kadyrov has been a vocal supporter of the war against Ukraine, with Chechen forces forming part of the vanguard of the Russian army in the region.
The Chechen leader said in his post that Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, commander of the Russian forces fighting at Lyman, was a "mediocrity." Kadyrov suggested the commander should be demoted to private and have his medals taken away.
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"Due to a lack of elementary military logistics, today we have abandoned several settlements and a large piece of territory," Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov said he had warned Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia's general staff, about the possibility of a defeat at Lyman two weeks ago but that Gerasimov had dismissed the idea.
Reuters contributed to this report.