Russia threatens to defend the annexed areas “by any means”. US President Biden warns of the danger of “Armageddon”. How big is the danger?
Tones are getting shrill in many capitals, given the uncertain situation on the battlefields in Ukraine. The possibility of a nuclear attack is discussed. [Aktuelle Entwicklungen im Liveblog.]
Why have concerns about a nuclear escalation increased?
In the background is Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, where Moscow is increasingly losing control despite the annexation of the regions. On the one hand, Russia’s leaders have declared that they will defend the conquests “with all the means at their disposal”, which implies the use of nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, there are the statements of the President of Ukraine Zelenskyj and the President of the USA Joe Biden. One called for preventive measures against Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. The other said the world is closer to a nuclear war than it has been since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
What are Russia’s nuclear options in the Ukraine war?
Russia has strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. Strategic nuclear weapons are likely to be used only if the war in Ukraine turns into a military conflict between Russia and NATO. Tactical nuclear weapons, on the other hand, have smaller warheads and can therefore be used by Russia for limited use in Ukraine. But here, too, the risk of escalation will be too great due to radiation over large areas.
What does Russia’s nuclear doctrine say?
Nuclear doctrine states that Moscow can use nuclear weapons in response only in two situations: either a nuclear attack on Russia, or an attack on Russia with conventional weapons that threatens the country’s very existence. The second point is open to interpretation: From Moscow’s point of view, does Ukraine’s re-conquest of Russia’s annexed areas already jeopardize the country’s existence? Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that this is not the case.
Why doesn’t Putin use nuclear weapons?military expert Christian Molling explains about the ZDF:
How likely do experts think such a coup is?
Most experts consider a nuclear attack unlikely. Technically, the Russian nuclear forces are equipped for this, at least on paper – there are an estimated 6,000 tactical nuclear warheads and more than 1,000 strategic warheads. But the consequences of such an action will also be uncertain for Russia. A tactical nuclear attack on Ukraine risks an incalculable escalation.
At the same time, it is unclear what military goals can be achieved. Ukrainian troops are close to the front, so Moscow may also endanger its own troops. The operation will also pollute the territories claimed by Russia. The use of strategic nuclear weapons would also likely mean the end of Russia. At the start of the war, Moscow TV propagandists said, “What do we need the world if there is no place for Russia in this world” to indicate that Moscow will not accept defeat in Ukraine.
But many observers believe that Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin was smart enough not to hit the self-destruct button. Even then, all junior officers would have to play together in the chain of command, something that is uncertain after recent fights within the Russian security bodies.
How does Ukraine see this?
President Zelenskyy said Moscow’s nuclear threats should be taken seriously. Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in an interview recently, “Where will they use them? On the front line, where not only Ukrainian troops but also their own troops are located? In the Black Sea? There are three NATO countries.”
“Stop being afraid of Russia. It’s not the second best army in the world, but beggars, looters and rapists,” Reznikov said at meetings with Western partners.
How will the West react?
To make the risk of using nuclear weapons incalculable for Putin, those responsible in NATO and EU countries do not publicly comment in detail on such questions. It is clear that the reaction ultimately depends on what exactly Russia does. If Putin “only” conducts a nuclear weapons test to persuade Ukraine to abandon its defense campaign, the West’s response will likely be limited to non-military measures such as diplomatic reprimand and additional sanctions.
But in the event of a Russian nuclear attack on major cities like Kyiv, direct NATO intervention cannot be ruled out. If all alliance partners agree, NATO could attempt to militarily eliminate Russian occupation troops in Ukraine.
According to information from alliance circles, another option is massive cyberattacks – paralyzing critical infrastructure such as power supplies or communications. Such an approach could also be considered if Russia were to use smaller tactical nuclear weapons on a targeted basis against the Ukrainian armed forces.
You can find the latest news about the Russian attack on Ukraine anytime on our live blog: