VLADIMIR Putin may turn the war in Ukraine nuclear by detonating a bomb on the border in a message to the West, it has been claimed.
Russia has been rattling its nuclear sabre as its forces continue to be pushed back even as Moscow declared four regions as their own.
Putin has been brazen in his threatens of turning the already devastating war nuclear - and Russian military doctrine does leave the door open for them to use a nuclear weapon.
Vlad's biggest submarine, Belgorod, which can be armed with "apocalypse" nuclear torpedoes is on the move, and there have been reports a convoy linked to a nuclear unit on the move in Russia.
And now the world waits with bated to breath to see if Putin will make good on his threats as his army suffered furthering humiliating defeats yesterday as Ukraine storms towards Kherson.
Defence sources reportedly claim one of the options on the table is for Putin to detonate a nuclear weapon on the border in a massive show of force, reports The Times.
Putin would have to find a large enough area to detonate the weapon without harming his own people - especially those who it has recently "welcomed" as part of Russia.
But the risky play could send a clear message to Ukraine and the West that he isn't afraid to use nukes in combat for the first since the end of World War 2.
It is widely understood the current nuclear threats are referring specifically to smaller, tactical weapons designed for battlefield use rather than massive city-killing bombs.
Nato is reported to have warned its members about the possibility that Vlad could be preparing for a nuclear escalation.
Defence sources said that a more likely option however is for Putin to use a nuclear weapon in the Black Sea.
Vlad could detonate a weapon over the sea which is bordered by Russia and Ukraine, along with Nato states Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Putin could potentially even detonate a bomb on Snake Island - a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance from earlier in the war, famous for the message telling the Russians to "go f*** yourselves".
Dr. Rod Thornton, a security expert at King’s College London, suggested the outpost during an interview with Forbes.
Other options could be a full on battlefield strike on Ukrainian forces using a tactical nuclear weapons.
While smaller, such devices would be still be utterly devastating - killing thousands and leave a large area bathed in radiation.
Other more drastic - and less realistic options - could see Putin could all out and launch a strike on Kyiv, or even attempt to strike Western weapons entering Ukraine from Poland.
And all these options would likely illicit a response in the West.
It could range from a US nuclear attack on Russians to a sudden effort to end the war and negotiate peace between Kyiv and Moscow.
He’s ready to up the stakes if he is losing on the battlefieldAlexander Gabuev
Either way, the nuclear danger puts humanity on the precipice of the one of the most dangerous moments since the Cold War with the looming spectre of World War 3.
Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Washington Post: "Time and again we are seeing that Vladimir Putin sees this as a big existential war and he’s ready to up the stakes if he is losing on the battlefield.
"At the same time I don’t think the West will back down, so it’s a very hard challenge now."
He warned the world could "two of three steps away" from the unthinkable - nuclear war.
Professor Joe Siracus, from Curtin University in Australia, also warned the world is a "nanosecond away" from a full blown nuclear crisis.
He suggested Vlad could see one of his options be to strike Western weapons before they arrive in Ukraine.
"We’re very, very close," the prof warned.
He went on: "Chances of war … between Putin and Biden are about 10 per cent if given their own ability to do so.
"The chances of an accidental war right now are about 90 per cent because there are no guardrails anywhere and theatre commanders can do what they want."
Russian state TV has been swamped with talk of nuclear war - with throughout the conflict Putin's mouthpiece hosts constantly raising the possibility, even suggesting nuking London.
Putin - who is reportedly growing increasingly unpredictable amid his health concerns - has the world's largest atomic arsenal athis fingertips.
And he gave a rambling speech last Friday as Russia annexed four regions in eastern Ukraine during which he constantly and incoherently moaned about the West.
Moscow has red lines in its doctrine about when to use nukes - but they are softer than those in the West.
Putin is happy to use the weapons if he considers there is an "existential threat" to Russia.
Russia is thought to have around 2,000 nuclear weapons in their arsenal in the form of small yield missiles, torpedoes and artillery shells.
Putin's commanders believed they could roll over Ukraine in a matter of days - but now the war has been raging for eight months.
Russian troops thought they would be greeted with cheers and waving flags, instead they were faced with Kalashnikovs and molotov cocktails.
The war has become a slow and brutal quagmire - one which has seen the Russians change tactics, moving from attempts at surgical strikes to savage, indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
With further defeats on the horizon, a seemingly hopeless mass mobilisation, and a resurgent Ukraine storming towards their new "territory" - fears are growing the war could escalate once again.
Both the US and Russia are believed to have invested much time and money into developing smaller battlefield-ready atomic weapons.
The weapons lack the truly terrifying devastating destructive power of the biggest Cold War-era weapons - such as the Tsar Bomba.
A single 58 megaton Tsar Bomba could cause devastation across 50 miles area, kill millions of people, send a shockwave that would circle the globe three times, and cause a mushroom cloud visible for 500 miles.
Such a bomb was deemed far too big to ever be used due to the potentially apocalyptic consequences of such a nuclear exchange.
But that sort of thinking is what has pushed war planners to develop and potentially use tactical - as opposed to strategic - nuclear weapons.
Moscow's war doctrine is believed to be open to using nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict as an intimidation tactic - and use of such a weapon must be signed off personally by Putin.
The tactic became known as "escalate to de-escalate".
Moscow has previously practiced such strategies in the field - such as simulating a Nato attack on the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
The scenario saw the Russian forces strike back at the invading West by firing nuclear arms at Poland and the US.
And these drills are believed to have taken place in the nineties and noughties, with tactical nukes used for both offense and defense.
Russian warships, missile launchers, warplanes and even field artillery guns can be armed with small yield nuclear warheads.
Nato has warned in no uncertain terms that Putin faces "catastrophic consequences" if he uses a nuke - with the alliance describing the war as now in its most dangerous.