The world has entered a new era where nuclear war is once again a genuine threat, according to Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov.
In an interview with the BBC published on Thursday, Muratov said he was anxious about just how far Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to go in his standoff with the West over Ukraine.
“Two generations have lived without the threat of nuclear war,” he told the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg. “But this period is over. Will Putin press the nuclear button, or won’t he? Who knows? No one knows this. There isn’t a single person who can say for sure.”
Top Kremlin officials have made several thinly veiled threats to the West since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Putin himself has repeatedly hinted in the year since the invasion that Russia could use a nuclear weapon if threatened, with U.S. intelligence warning earlier this month that the Russian leader was expanding his nuclear weapons arsenal.
In January, an ally of Putin issued a warning to NATO that a nuclear war could be triggered by a Russian defeat in Ukraine, while the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church cautioned that any Western desire to destroy Russia would result in the end of the world.
Muratov, who was interviewed by the BBC in Russian capital Moscow, said Russians were being conditioned by the Kremlin to be ready for nuclear war.
“We see how state propaganda is preparing people to think that nuclear war isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “On TV channels here, nuclear war and nuclear weapons are promoted as if they’re advertising pet food.”
As the war in Ukraine has raged on, Russian propagandists have used their platforms to hold discussions about their country’s nuclear capabilities.
Last May, a Russian television show saw its hosts casually chatting and joking about how long it would take for a ballistic missile to reach London, Paris or Berlin. In January, a Russian TV host reportedly described France, Poland, and Berlin as “legitimate targets” that should be struck for supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Muratov described people in Russia as having been “irradiated by propaganda,” noting that in his country, state ideology was pushed out to the public via television, newspapers and social media.
“[The government] announces: ‘We’ve got this missile, that missile, another kind of missile,’” he added. “They talk about targeting Britain and France; about sparking a nuclear tsunami that washes away America. Why do they say this? So that people here are ready.”
A spokesperson for the Russian government was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Fortune.
Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Kremlin-critical newspaper Novaya Gazeta was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa in 2021.
The pair shared the accolade for their “courageous” efforts to uphold the freedom of expression in countries where press freedom is being curtailed.
Since the full-scale war in Ukraine began last year, almost all independent media outlets have been banned or declared “foreign agents,” while big-name newspapers and major TV news stations—where the majority of Russians consume their news—have remained under the control of the Kremlin.
In September, Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta—one of Russia’s last remaining independent news outlets—was stripped of its media license and effectively banned from operating.
Last year, Muratov auctioned off his Nobel medal to raise funds for Ukrainian child refugees, with the prize fetching more than $100 million.
Novaya Gazeta, cofounded by Muratov in 1993, was renowned for in-depth exposés of power abuses, human rights abuses, and corruption under the Russian regime.
The Nobel committee noted in 2021 that several Novaya Gazeta journalists had been murdered in the past because of the nature of their work.