Vladimir Putin is more likely to push the nuclear button than lose the war in Ukraine, one of his chief propagandists has claimed.
Margarita Simonyan, editor of state broadcaster Russia Today, said during an appearance on TV that it was "more probable" the Russian president would turn to his nuclear arsenal than admit defeat.
Simonyan, one of the primary mouthpieces for the Kremlin, said: "Either we lose in Ukraine, or the Third World War starts. I think World War Three is more realistic, knowing us, knowing our leader.
"The most incredible outcome, that all this will end with a nuclear strike, seems more probable to me than the other course of events."
In an apparent attempt to rationalise the rhetoric, Simonyan added: "We're all going to die one day."
"This is to my horror on one hand," she told her fellow guests.
"But on the other hand, it is what it is. We will go to heaven, while they will simply croak... We're all going to die someday."
Her comments follow an increase in rhetoric about nuclear war in recent days coming out of the Kremlin.
On Wednesday, Putin appeared to reference Moscow's nuclear capabilities in a warning to the West in which he said "all the objectives will definitely be carried out" and any country that tried to "interfere" in the conflict would face "quick" retaliation.
"We have all the tools for this, things no one else can boast of having now. And we will not boast, we will use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know that," he said.
"If someone intends to intervene in the ongoing events from the outside, and create strategic threats for Russia that are unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning-fast," he told Russian lawmakers.
Last week, Russia test-launched its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be a new addition to its nuclear arsenal.
The missile was launched from Plesetsk in the northwest of Russia, and hit a target in the eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.
Putin claimed the "successful" test would give "food for thought" for any nation which issues a threat.
Putin and his allies in the Kremlin have issued a number of nuclear threats in recent weeks, and in April it was reported that Kremlin officials were becoming "increasingly" worried Putin could use limited nuclear weapons as part of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The director of the CIA also said Putin could turn to using a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon out of "potential desperation” to claim a small victory.
On Monday, Russian defence minister Sergei Lavrov said there was a "real danger" of the conflict slipping into a third world war, and said Russia viewed Nato as being “in essence” engaged in a proxy war as sovereign nations are supplying Ukraine with weapons.