President Vladimir Putin recently warned that he is ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia amid the war in Ukraine and Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia says that’s a possibility.
Western politicians, diplomats and nuclear weapons experts are divided. Some say he could use smaller, tactical nuclear weapons to prevent military defeat, protect his presidency, scare off the West or intimidate Kyiv into surrender, Reuters reported.
In his most recent comments, Putin explicitly warned the West which he accused of discussing a potential nuclear attack on Russia. He said:
This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.
Putin’s warning might mean the Kremlin is considering an escalation after Russia annexes four Ukrainian regions which it only partly occupies.
Russia’s parliament is expected to declare the regions as part of Russia on October 4, 2022. Once that happens the way would be clear, from Moscow’s viewpoint, for a possible defensive strike if it felt the territory was under serious threat.
Putin controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, including a new generation of hypersonic weapons and ten times more tactical nuclear weapons than the West, and the United States and the NATO military alliance are taking him seriously.
Tony Brenton told Reuters in August before Putin stepped up his warnings:
If the choice for Russia is fighting a losing war, and losing badly and Putin falling, or some kind of nuclear demonstration, I wouldn’t bet that they wouldn’t go for the nuclear demonstration.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told U.S. TV networks on Sunday that President Joe Biden’s administration was taking Putin’s comments “deadly serious” and had warned Moscow of specific “catastrophic consequences” if it used nuclear arms.
Washington has not spelt out its likely response, but using a nuclear device could trigger a nuclear escalation, which is why most experts believe a massive conventional attack on Russian military assets would be more likely.
Asked if Putin was moving towards a nuclear attack, CIA Director William Burns told CBS on Tuesday:
We have to take very seriously his kind of threats given everything that’s at stake.
Burns, though, said U.S. intelligence had no practical evidence that Putin was moving towards using tactical nuclear weapons imminently.
If Putin did order a nuclear strike inside Ukraine, it would be the first use of nuclear weapons in battle since the United States unleashed the atomic bomb attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.