Malaysia’s Mahathir says Russia may take nuclear option

RFA Staff
Malaysia’s Mahathir says Russia may take nuclear option Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during the Nikkei Forum "Future of Asia" in Tokyo, May 26, 2023.

The world is facing the grim prospect of a nuclear war as the Ukrainian conflict drags on, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned during an appearance on Friday at an international conference in Japan.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II and has ratcheted up tensions between Moscow and the West to levels not seen in decades.

Speaking on the second day of the Future of Asia conference in Tokyo and in comments that were live streamed online, Mahathir said he did not think Russia could be made to surrender.

“They will fight to the end, and in desperation they may resort to the use of nuclear weapons,” said the former statesman who will be 98 in July, adding that not only Ukraine and Russia, but “the whole world will suffer.” 

Mahathir served as Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and again from 2018 to 2020, and s known as a longtime critic of the West.

“Nuclear war is the worst kind of war because of the extent of destruction it causes,” he said, reflecting on the end of World War II when two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

He also commented on the Group of Seven’s efforts to end the Ukraine conflict. The bloc of the world’s most developed nations held a summit in Hiroshima last week.

“It seems that G7 countries went to Hiroshima trying to persuade the Global South that they should support the West’s efforts in the Ukraine war,” Mahathir said. 

The Global South is a term generally used for less developed countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, as opposed to more prosperous nations in the Global North including North America, Europe, and Australia, as well as several rich Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and Singapore. 

“We should not get involved in wars,” the former leader said before criticizing what he called “the mindset of some countries.”

“Global North thinks that war is a solution to conflicts between nations,” Mahathir said.

“Russia and the West were partners in the war against Germany, but immediately after the war the West decided that their new enemy is Russia so they set up NATO.”

‘World government’

The rivalry between the world’s two superpowers China and the U.S. was once again highlighted at the Future of Asia event, which is in its 28th year.

On Thursday, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that his country “welcomes the G7's announcement that they are prepared to build a stable and constructive relationship with China.”

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong went further, adding: “Any attempt either to contain China’s rise or to limit America’s presence in the region will have few takers. Nobody wants to see a new cold war.”

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad attends the Nikkei Forum Future of Asia in Tokyo, May 26, 2023. [AFP]

For his part, Mahathir urged Asian countries that they “should not take sides to support either the U.S. or China.”

“We should support the world that includes the U.S., China and the rest.

“We should free ourselves from the influences of the West both in the economic and political fields.

The United Nations needed to be restructured in order to lead global efforts in dealing with common world problems such as climate change, pandemics and consequences of wars, he said.

“We should think of a common approach to deal with world problems, through a kind of world government,” he said.

The Future of Asia, hosted by Japan’s Nikkei media company annually since 1995, is “an international gathering where political, economic, and academic leaders from the Asia-Pacific region offer their opinions frankly and freely on regional issues and the role of Asia in the world.”

This year’s theme is “Leveraging Asia’s power to confront global challenges.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivered a speech Thursday saying Tokyo is “focused on co-creating the future” with its Asian partners.


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