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Russia has threatened to use nuclear force against the United States and its NATO allies over Crimea and the Baltic States, in a stark warning reportedly issued by Moscow's envoys to their counterparts earlier this month, the British newspaper The Times reported on Thursday.
At a closed-door bilateral meeting held in Germany in the middle of last month, the Kremlin's emissaries cautioned that any Western attempt to return Crimea to Ukraine will be met with force.
Russia's nuclear posturing follows further expansion of NATO's military presence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where the Kremlin appears to be poised to begin destabilising actions similar to those used in eastern Ukraine, the newspaper reports.
Notes of the meetings seen by The Times were drawn up by a group of retired U.S. military and intelligence officials, who had a two-day meeting with former high-level members of Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB, and former Russian army generals in the town of Torgau, Saxony.
The document summarised the key points raised by the Russian delegation, which had been briefed by the Kremlin. The details were noted by the Elbe group, a diplomatic platform for U.S.-Russian military and intelligence relations.
The first message reported was that, following its annexation last year, Crimea was now part of the Russian Federation and any attempt by NATO to return it to Ukraine would be considered a direct attack against Russia.
As such, it "will be responded to forcefully, including through the use of nuclear force," the document read. "In this type of scenario, the United States should also understand it would also be at risk."
The Russians also used Cold War-era language to suggest that, despite their NATO membership, Moscow considered Baltic states no different from Ukraine, as all three countries are home to ethnic Russian minorities, who, the Kremlin claims, are being discriminated against.
The Russian delegation said that "the same conditions that existed in Ukraine and caused Russia to take action there" were also currently present in its Baltic neighbours.
"Russia would hope slowly to entice those Russian populations towards Russia without giving NATO a pretext to deploy troops," the U.S. note of the Elbe group meeting read, according to The Times.
To counter NATO influence, "Russian members mentioned a spectrum of responses from nuclear to non-military," the document read.
Finally the Kremlin's envoys left the door open to a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine, saying that Moscow's preferred option would be the transformation of the country into a confederation, allowing a large degree of autonomy to its rebellious eastern provinces.
In their report, the U.S. delegates suggested that their counterparts had issued such brazen threats to "shock the U.S. back to the [negotiating] table" over Ukraine.