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Putin’s nuclear warning: Truth or hoax?

LONDON –

President Vladimir Putin’s latest warning that he is ready to use nuclear weapons to protect Russia amid the war in Ukraine has made a dilemma much more urgent: Will the former KGB agent be are cheating?

Putin warned that it was not a scam, and that Western politicians, diplomats and nuclear weapons experts were divided. Some say he could use one or more smaller tactical nuclear weapons to try to prevent military defeat, protect his president, drive the West away or threaten Kyiv to surrender.

Putin’s warning, then a more specific threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine from an ally, could mean that the Kremlin is considering escalation after Russia annexed four regions of Ukraine. Ukraine which they occupy only a part.

The Russian parliament is expected to declare these areas as part of Russia on October 4. Once that happens, in Moscow’s view, the path will be clear for a defensive offensive. could happen if the country feels its territory is under serious threat.

However, breaking the nuclear taboo would be a sign of desperation, so whether Putin goes ahead with denuclearization may ultimately depend on how he feels. in a conflict that has so far been more modest than defeating a former superpower.

Putin controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, including a new generation of hypersonic weapons and 10 times more tactical nuclear weapons than the West, and the United States and the NATO military alliance are attaching great importance to it. he.

“If the choice for Russia is to fight a war that loses, and loses miserably and Putin falls, or some kind of nuclear demonstration, I wouldn’t bet they wouldn’t join the nuclear protest. people”, Tony Brenton, former British ambassador. told Reuters in August, before Putin stepped up his warning.

In his most recent comments, Putin has clearly warned the West that Russia will use all available means to defend Russian territory and accused the West of discussing a nuclear strike. potential targets for Russia.

“This is not a hoax. And those trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that weather ships can turn and head towards them,” he said.

Such blunt Kremlin rhetoric is very different from the more nuanced nuclear signals favored by the late Soviet leaders after Nikita Khrushchev brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Great War. Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told US television channels on Sunday that the administration of President Joe Biden was taking Putin’s comments “deadly seriously” and had warned Moscow about ” catastrophic consequences” if it used nuclear weapons.

Washington has not yet offered a possible response, but the use of nuclear equipment could cause a nuclear escalation, which is why most experts believe that a major conventional attack on Russian military assets would be more likely.

When asked if Putin was moving towards a nuclear strike, CIA Director William Burns told CBS on Tuesday: “We have to be very serious about his kinds of threats because everything is at stake. threatened.”

However, Burns said US intelligence has no actual evidence that Putin is about to use tactical nuclear weapons.

GO Nuclear

If Putin ordered a nuclear strike inside Ukraine, it would be the first use of nuclear weapons in battle since the United States carried out atomic bomb attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan in August 1945.

Theoretically, weapons of lower yield than long-range launched by sea, air or land could be used against Ukrainian military targets, despite their effectiveness in combat. Such a scenario is a matter of debate among military experts.

Another option, they say, is for Putin to detonate such a weapon in a remote and unpopulated area or a body of water, such as the Black Sea, as a display of cold intentions.

The fallout from a small Russian tactical weapon might be limited to about a kilometer (half a mile), but the psychological and geopolitical impact will be felt around the world.

“Putin is playing a high stakes game of cocks,” said Richard K. Betts, professor of war and peace studies at Columbia University. “If I had to bet money, I would probably bet 3:2 that he wouldn’t go nuclear even if he felt desperate, but that’s not good odds.”

FOLLOW

In a sign Washington is closely monitoring Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Saturday’s flight-tracking data showed that the United States had deployed at least two RS-135s Cobra Ball spy planes, used to monitor ballistic missile activity, near the Russian border.

Lawrence Freedman, Professor Emeritus of War Studies at King’s College London, said there was no evidence Moscow was preparing for such a nuclear attack at the moment and that Washington would know “fairly quickly”. if.

He said it would be a mistake to be complacent about Putin’s nuclear warnings, but he doesn’t think Putin’s use of nuclear weapons to protect newly annexed territory would be a mistake.

“To start a nuclear war to break this taboo that has been going on since August 1945 for such small gains when the Ukrainians say they won’t stop fighting, and even if If the battle stops, he’ll find these territories impossible to pacify. That seems like a very odd thing to do,” Freedman said.

Given the preposterous nature of the use of nuclear weapons under the circumstances, he added, taking the threat seriously would lead to the assumption that it would be an act of emotional desperation by Putin in the situation. that he felt threatened, he added.

“You can see the pressures he’s under and the rationality in his head about how the use of a small nuclear weapon might work,” said Betts of Columbia University. his power to reverse the situation, frighten the West, and free him from the bondage he is in.”

‘CURRENT LINE’

Putin said that Russia is now fighting for its existence in Ukraine after years of humiliation at the hands of an arrogant West that wants to destroy the former superpower.

“In its active anti-Russian policy, the West has crossed all boundaries,” Putin said in a September 21 warning.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of people, fueled global inflation and sparked the worst confrontation with the West since the height of the Cold War.

Seven months later, Putin’s forces are facing a fierce counterattack from Ukrainian forces trained and equipped by Western countries. Betts said the more favorable it is for Ukraine on the battlefield, the more likely it is that Putin can denuclearize.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine authorizes a nuclear strike after “aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened.”

Kremlin hawks say the West is trying to topple Putin, who has been in power in Russia since 1999.

In March, US President Joe Biden said Mr Putin “cannot stay in power” in comments the White House said was intended to prepare the world’s democracies for a protracted conflict over Ukraine. , rather than against regime change in Russia.

And in May, Biden said he was trying to figure out what to do in the face of the fact that Putin seemed to have no way out of the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy previously dismissed Russia’s warnings, but told CBS on Sunday that Mr Putin could now be serious.

“Look, maybe yesterday it was fooled. Now it could be true.”


(Edited by Philippa Fletcher)

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