In Washington, Putin’s nuclear threats stir growing alarm

By | October 1, 2022

The New York Times reports:

For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, top government leaders in Moscow are making explicit nuclear threats and officials in Washington are gaming out scenarios should President Vladimir V. Putin decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon to make up for the failings of Russian troops in Ukraine.

In a speech on Friday, Mr. Putin raised the prospect anew, calling the United States and NATO enemies seeking Russia’s collapse and declaring again that he would use “all available means” to defend Russian territory — which he has now declared includes four provinces of eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Putin reminded the world of President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 77 years ago, adding, “By the way, they created a precedent.” On Saturday, the strongman leader of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, said Mr. Putin should consider using “low-yield nuclear weapons” in Ukraine, becoming the first prominent Russian official to openly call for such a strike.

Senior American officials say they think the chances that Mr. Putin would employ a nuclear weapon remain low. They say they have seen no evidence that he is moving any of his nuclear assets, and a recent Pentagon analysis suggests the military benefits would be few. And the cost for Mr. Putin — in a furious international response, perhaps even from the Chinese, whose support he needs most — could be tremendous.

But they are far more worried about the possibility now than they were at the beginning of the Ukraine conflict in February. After a series of humiliating retreats, astoundingly high casualty rates and a deeply unpopular move to draft young Russian men into service, Mr. Putin clearly sees the threat of his nuclear arsenal as a way to instill fear, and perhaps to recover some respect for Russia’s power.

Most important, he may see the threat of unleashing part of his stockpile of roughly 2,000 so-called tactical nuclear weapons — lower-yield warheads usable in smaller bombs, short-range missiles or artillery rounds — as a way to extort concessions that he has been unable to win on the battlefield. Some Russian military analysts have suggested exploding a tactical weapon over a remote place like the Black Sea as a demonstration, or perhaps actually using one against a Ukrainian military base. [Continue reading…]

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, writes:

The Russians now realize that they are losing the war they started. That’s why they are resorting to annexation and nuclear blackmail.

We know they are not bluffing. But we are not afraid. Nothing can scare us anymore. Ukrainians have seen large cities reduced to ruins. We’ve absorbed many forms of conventional and some forms of unconventional enemy fire. We’ve survived all kinds of torture. We’ve discovered mass graves everywhere the Russians put their boots. For us, this war is an existential fight, and we have no choice but to go on.

Our intelligence agencies assess the threat of Russia’s tactical nuclear-weapons use as “very high.” And Russia’s willingness to make nuclear threats presents a crisis not just for Ukraine, but for every country on Earth. The response to Russia’s nuclear blackmail must be fierce and unequivocal, rejecting the very idea of ​making concessions to a nuclear aggressor. Otherwise, every ambitious dictator will scramble to obtain nuclear weapons, and every responsible nonnuclear nation will seek to acquire nuclear weapons for self-defense. Nonproliferation agreements will be worthless. Nuclear wars, with their millions of casualties, will follow. [Continue reading…]