Sergey Mikheev is a Russian political scientist whom the Washington Free Beacon identifies as a “Putin loyalist,” and since he was recently featured on the state-owned Russia-1 television channel, there is no doubt that he is. That makes what he said during his TV hit on March 20 all the more serious: Mikheev said that if NATO moves into Ukraine, “This would mean nuclear war. Yes!” That’s right; he sounded quite excited at the prospect.

Vladimir Putin himself suggested that the nuclear option was on the table back on Feb. 24, when he announced the Ukraine invasion and declared, “Whoever tries to hinder us, or threaten our country or our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences that you have never faced in your history.”

Three days after that, on Feb. 27, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert. “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country,” Putin said, “but leaders of major NATO countries are making aggressive statements about our country. So, I order to move Russia’s deterrence forces to a special regime of combat duty.”

The following day, however, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, allayed fears somewhat when he said, “On the use of nuclear weapons, God forbid it.” In placing the nuclear arsenal on high alert, Nebenzya said, Russia was engaging in “a kind of deterrence.”

Sergey Mikheev, however, struck a sharply different tone, saying: “We need to convey a simple message to Europe: You will receive a nuclear strike in European territory if you form some sort of a NATO peacekeeping contingent, if you decide to deploy this contingent somewhere and so forth … This would mean nuclear war. Yes! Nuclear war.”

Mikheev seemed eager to spell out exactly what this would mean, saying that Europe “must understand this. [I say] to the brave Poles: In half a second, there will be nothing left of your Warsaw. And the brave Germans, brave Estonians, brave people of the Balts … By the way, speaking about the Balts, as far as I know, there are big problems at the border in Kaliningrad. Maybe the question of a corridor to Kaliningrad becomes relevant? A corridor, a land corridor to Kaliningrad. Why not?”

Kaliningrad is the ancient German city of Königsberg, annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II and separated from the great land mass of Russia when the Soviet Union dissolved and Lithuania and Belarus became independent. A land corridor from Russia proper to Kaliningrad would necessarily involve territorial concessions from Lithuania, which joined NATO in 2004. So in practically the same breath, Mikheev was warning NATO against sending a “peacekeeping contingent” into Ukraine, as well as suggesting that a NATO member state should be forced to cede territory to Russia.

Related: Sure, Putin Would Use His Nukes. Why Wouldn’t He?

But Mikheev was in no mood to be evenhanded, much less conciliatory. “It seems to me,” he raged on, “that the states called Lithuania and Poland are behaving too brazenly. Too brazenly! And they also don’t understand that they can actually be dealt with faster than Ukraine. Because the issue of the corridor is a local military operation, it’s much easier than everything we are doing in Ukraine.”

World War II began as Hitler was demanding that the Polish Corridor, the narrow strip that was Poland’s sole outlet to the sea at that time, be ceded to Germany. Will World War III begin with Russia making demands for its own corridor in Eastern Europe, involving territorial concessions from NATO member states?

If he were at all interested in lowering tensions at this point, Vladimir Putin would repudiate Mikheev’s rant and reiterate what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday, that Russia was not going to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and would only use them if Russia faced a “threat for existence.” Peskov stated that “no one is thinking about … using a nuclear weapon,” and that the war in Ukraine had “nothing to do with” the threat to Russia’s very existence that would call for the use of nukes.

Mikheev’s statements on Russia-1 TV couldn’t possibly stand in sharper contrast to Peskov’s words. Mikheev seemed almost gleeful at the prospect of nuclear war and unhesitatingly issued all manner of threats to neighboring NATO states. But no clarification is likely to come from the Kremlin, as Putin is just as uninterested in calming the situation as Old Joe Biden is. Are all these threats and bravado going to land us in World War III? The possibility of that has never been greater.

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