A senior Pentagon official has warned that Russia is “playing with fire” by suggesting it would threaten the use of nuclear weapons in international disputes, and added that Russia is attempting an intimidation campaign against Nato.

Robert Work, the US Deputy Secretary of Defence, told a House Armed Services subcommittee that Russia was trying to control the escalation of tensions by invoking the threat of nuclear weapons.

He said: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire.”

“Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

The Kremlin has not made any direct nuclear threats, and Work did not specify and particular comments. However, numerous references to Russia’s nuclear arsenal in the last few months by Russian officials have increased tensions between East and West.

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