Putin’s claim UK is sending nuclear arms to Ukraine is ‘bonkers’ says expert

China’s peace plan could be the basis for settling the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin claimed on Tuesday as he accused Britain of using “nuclear” tank ammunition.

Speaking after marathon talks in Moscow with Xi Jinping, the Russian president accused the West of not being interested in a deal and said Britain plans to provide Kyiv with tank rounds containing depleted uranium.

“If that happens, Russia will respond accordingly, given that the collective West is starting to use weapons with a nuclear component,” he said.

However, the Ministry of Defence dismissed it as deliberate misinformation while a weapons expert called it “bonkers”.

"The British Army has used depleted uranium in its armour piercing shells for decades,” a spokesperson said. “It is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities. Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to disinform.”

Weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of Britain’s Royal Tank Regiment, said it was "reckless" of Putin “to try and suggest Britain is sending nuclear material” to Ukraine.

“Putin insinuating that they are some sort of nuclear weapon is bonkers,” he said. “Depleted uranium is completely inert. There is no way that you could create a nuclear reaction or a nuclear explosion with depleted uranium”.

Mr Putin was speaking after Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit to Kyiv, stealing some of the global attention from Mr Xi, who was in Moscow to show support for Russia against the West over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two visits, about 500 miles apart, highlighted the nearly 13-month-old war’s repercussions for international diplomacy as countries line up behind Moscow or Kyiv.

They follow a week in which China and Japan both enjoyed diplomatic successes that have emboldened their foreign policy.

Mr Kishida, who is to chair the G7 summit in May, will meet President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital, coinciding with Mr Xi’s talks for a second day with Mr Putin in the Russian capital.

Mr Kishida will “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelensky’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G7”, the Japanese foreign ministry said in announcing his trip to Kyiv.

Kyodo News said Mr Kishida visited a church in Bucha, a town outside Kyiv that became a symbol of Russian atrocities against civilians, laid flowers at a church there and paid his respects to the victims.

“I’m outraged by the cruelty. I represent the Japanese citizens to express my condolences to those who lost their lives,” he was quoted as saying.

Britain and the US maintain that any peace plan coming from the Putin-Xi meeting would be unacceptable because a ceasefire would only ratify Moscow’s territorial conquests and give Russia time to plan for a renewed offensive.

Beijing insists it is a neutral broker in Ukraine, and Xi said after his talks with Putin: “We adhere to a principled and objective position on the Ukrainian crisis based on the goals and principles of the UN Charter.” He added that the Chinese plan seeks to “actively encourage peace and the resumption of talks”.

Whether China’s support of Russia will extend to military support is a key question. Western officials “have seen some signs” that Putin also wants lethal weapons from China, though there is no evidence Beijing has granted his request, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels.

“China should not provide lethal aid to Russia,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “That would be to support an illegal war and only prolong the war.”

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.