Opinion: When, Why And How Putin Might Use Nukes

-Opinion: When, Why And How Putin Might Use Nukes

We must assume that a man like Vladimir Putin is capable of anything, even the use of nuclear weapons. The Russian President has made abundantly clear that human life is worth nothing to him unless it’s his own. And there are scenarios in which he might calculate diabolically that launching one or more nukes could keep him in power and save his skin.

That’s because we’ve entered a world that, in strategic terms, resembles Europe in the volatile early years of the Cold War more than during its relatively stable later stages. The effect is to scrap old notions of deterrence and raise the risk of accidental nuclear Armageddon.

In the years following World War II, the U.S. knew that its forces in western Europe were inferior to the Soviet Union’s and probably wouldn’t withstand its onslaught. To compensate, the Americans stationed comparatively low-yield (but of course still unimaginably devastating) nuclear warheads on the soil of European allies. The message was that, in case of a Soviet attack, NATO might drop a few of these on the battlefield to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But as the nuclear arms race progressed, the Soviet Union caught up and “strategic” weapons became more prominent. These are larger bombs that can be launched, for example, on intercontinental missiles from the homeland of one side against that of the other. They would take out entire cities at a time.

Apocalyptic as it sounds, this balance of terror has so far saved us from nuclear war. In one metaphor, West and East were personified by two people standing in the same room, up to their waists in gasoline. Each had some number of matches. But neither lit up, because both would go up in flames. Appropriately, this stalemate was called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

In the two decades during which Putin has ruled Russia, however, the strategic big picture has changed yet again. In a sense, it has reverted to the situation just after World War II, but with the roles reversed.

Now it is Russia that suspects its army is inferior to NATO’s in a conventional war. Therefore, it is Putin who’s compensating for that weakness by threatening the use of tactical nukes to win battles or wars that initially aren’t going well for him. Rather oxymoronically, this approach is called “escalate to de-escalate.”

For that purpose, Russia – which is roughly even with the U.S. in strategic nukes – has gained an edge of 10:1 in tactical weapons. It has roughly 2,000; America has only about 200, half of which are stationed in Europe.

Putin has already hinted several times that he might dip into his prodigious arsenal if NATO were to cross his red lines. And because he confuses his own fate with his country’s, he’s apt to interpret any threat of personal humiliation or regime change in Moscow as such a line.

Say the Ukrainians – who are fighting heroically against the surprisingly incompetent Russian invaders – come close to winning. Or that a hypersonic Russian missile strays into Poland, a NATO member. Or that the West delivers weapons to Ukraine that could tilt the war. Any of these twists could make Putin fear his imminent demise – and escalate.

His first strike would demonstrate intent. He could drop a low-yield bomb on an empty forest or the open sea, just to show he means business. As a next step, he could nuke a specific enemy weapons depot, army base or battalion – in any case, not yet an entire city. The variable yields of tactical warheads make such fine-tuning possible – you can play with scenarios on this Nukemap.

Putin would thereby signal his determination to go all the way, gambling that the U.S. and its allies will not retaliate in kind. In his mind, he’d be calling the West’s bluff. Cold War leaders on both sides knew they couldn’t win a nuclear war. If Putin ever launches, it’s because he reckons he can.

But would he? NATO, and especially the U.S., must now prepare for harrowing decisions after a Russian first strike. Should the West detonate its own low-yield nuke, to show resolve? Where would both sides go from there?

Once these weapons – the deadliest in all of human history no matter their yield – start going off, the risk of misunderstandings, errors, and accidents soars. A “limited” strike by one side will still feel cataclysmic to the other. And the missiles fly so fast, the other side would have only minutes to respond. The temptation to “use it or lose it” would rise.


Long before the nuclear age, a bookish Prussian officer who’d witnessed the Napoleonic battles opined “On War.” Carl von Clausewitz grasped the inherent tension between generals trying to keep war limited and war wanting to become absolute, ending in the total destruction of one or all parties.

The imperative, Clausewitz concluded, is to always align tactics and strategy. “War is nothing but the continuation of politics with other means,” he wrote in his most famous (and often misunderstood) phrase. He meant you must only fight the kind of war that makes the ensuing peace tolerable. Let’s pray there are people left in Moscow who understand that.

-“We Would Rather Die Than Kneel”: Kyiv Mayor Says Russians Pushed Back
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said there were battles raging on the northern and eastern outskirts of the city, and that “the small city of Makariv and almost all of Irpin is already under the control of Ukrainian soldiers”.

Kyiv: Ukrainian forces have pushed back Russian troops in several areas around Kyiv, the city’s mayor said Wednesday, vowing to defend every building rather than surrender the capital.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said there were battles raging on the northern and eastern outskirts of the city, and that “the small city of Makariv and almost all of Irpin is already under the control of Ukrainian soldiers”.

Irpin borders Kyiv to the east, and Makariv is located some 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the west.

Fierce exchanges of artillery fire took place in Irpin and Lyutizh to the north of Kyiv, with considerable activity behind the front lines in Irpin, AFP journalists said.

A Ukrainian news agency spoke of a possible encirclement of Russian troops at Irpin, as well as Bucha and Hostomel, which are located in the western outskirts of Kyiv.

Klitschko said he didn’t have any more detailed information of ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensives.

Russian troops quickly pushed to the outskirts of Kyiv after invading the country on February 24, but their attempt to encircle and enter the city have failed.

The “target of aggressors is the capital of Ukraine … because the city is the heart of the country,” former boxing champion Klitschko told a news conference in a city park overlooking the Dnipro river.

He urged Russian soldiers to go back home and said Ukrainians are ready to defend Kyiv building by building.
“We would rather die than kneel in front of the Russians or surrender to the invaders,” said Klitschko.

“We are ready to fight for each building, each street, every part of our city.”

A residential neighbourhood in northwestern Kyiv came under bombardment Wednesday morning, with several buildings damaged and four people wounded.

A count kept by city authorities puts the civilian fatalities in the capital at 73, including four children, since the start of the invasion. Another 297 people have been wounded.

The Ukrainian capital has been under curfew since the beginning of the week. Klitschko said the measure was necessary because of information from the military about possible attacks.

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