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America will retaliate with a "devastating strike" against the Russian military if Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, a former US military commander has warned.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said the U.S. may try to "destroy the Black Sea Fleet or Russian bases in Crimea."

His comments came after the Russian president issued a chilling warning to Western leaders, insisting he would use "all means" necessary to defend territories seized or planned to be annexed by Kremlin forces.

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Shortly after, the Chinese president called on the country's military to focus on preparing for real combat.

According to local media, at a seminar in Beijing dedicated to national defense, Xi Jinping gave a number of specific instructions.

Since 2015, Beijing has been trying to create an ultra-modern army that can, if necessary, repel any enemy.

In the address to the military, the Chinese leader did not mention Ukraine, but it came just hours after the mobilization announced by Putin.

In a separate statement, China called for a "truce through dialogue and consultation".

Is Putin capable of a nuclear move against Ukraine?

General Hodges, who commanded the US military in Europe between 2014 and 2018, stressed that the "possibility" of Putin ordering a nuclear strike against Ukraine was "highly unlikely".

According to him, the use of any strategic weapons of mass destruction will be met with a swift and severe response from President Joe Biden.

"He (Putin) knows that the US will have to respond if Russia uses nuclear weapons," the general said.

Potential attack zones for the US if Russia does launch a nuclear strike could include the naval port of Sevastopol on Crimea's western coast, which has been occupied by Kremlin forces since the peninsula was annexed in 2014.

The US responded to Putin's threat with a threat

Worried, Moscow has already moved some of its attack submarines from the Crimean peninsula to southern Russia over fears they will be hit by long-range Ukrainian fire, British intelligence has claimed.

In a daily briefing on Tuesday, the UK Ministry of Defense said these submarines were "almost certainly" moved to the Krasnodar region in mainland Russia.

Russian invasion of Ukraine