Nuclear weapons could be used in Ukraine

Nuclear Weapons Could Be Used In Ukraine

The use of nuclear weapons to achieve relatively small military goals in the West is considered unimaginable. It is believed that encountering other nuclear powers poses too great a danger of a catastrophe, and the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is considered immoral, writes Forbes. However, in Moscow, nuclear weapons are evaluated differently. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with each restructuring of Russia’s military strategy, nuclear weapons have taken on an increasingly important role in the country’s defense strategy. This reflects a different view of the utility of nuclear weapons in conflicts—a view that is not unlike the perspective of the former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, which supported the supply of U.S. forces with tactical nuclear systems for various battlefield purposes. This different Russian attitude towards the use of nuclear weapons is reflected in the fact that Russia has many times more low-yield short-range nuclear systems than the U.S.—according to some sources, up to 2000. Such systems are present in all branches of the Russian military, and it is common practice for weapons capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. The different Moscow approach to nuclear weapons often manifests itself in public statements by Russian officials and commentators, who, it is claimed, are close to President Vladimir Putin. Putin himself occasionally mentions the intimidating power of Russia’s nuclear arsenal—especially after Moscow’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine last summer. Russia’s small nuclear weapons capabilities: what effects would they really have What would happen if a nuclear bomb were used in Ukraine? Earlier this month, a Russian television commentator claimed that the consequences of using nuclear weapons do not necessarily have to be apocalyptic—especially if it is “used against a non-nuclear state.” It doesn’t take long to consider which non-nuclear state he had in mind. Ukraine did indeed have thousands of nuclear warheads immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union—but handed them over in exchange for guarantees that other nuclear states would not attack them in the future. These guarantees were included in a document called the Budapest Memorandum. Official Russian statements regarding the use of nuclear weapons are not reassuring. Moscow claims that nuclear weapons will only be used if other states do so or if there is an existential conventional threat to the Russian state, but various officials have suggested that Kiev’s declared war goals are equivalent to such a threat. As noted by Amy Woolf, a specialist in nuclear issues at the U.S. Congressional Research Service, “Russia’s doctrine indicates that it would use these weapons in response to the weak results of its conventional forces in an ongoing conflict”—especially in conflicts on the country’s borders. It may not take much to provoke such actions without major changes in Russia’s military fortunes on the battlefield. If Putin gets tired of the weakening impact of the conflict in the deadlock, it may be enough to convince others that the use of tactical nuclear systems can destroy Kiev’s desire to fight on. Contrary to what some Western military analysts claim, the use of nuclear weapons will not necessarily render large areas of Ukraine uninhabitable for many years. A few low-yield explosions would change the political and military situation but would not make the country uninhabitable. According to Forbes, in such a case, Western countries are likely to recoil in horror—but not respond in kind, fearing to provoke further escalation: Ukraine is not a NATO member, so it is not obliged to rush to its aid with a similar destructive power. Recently, Moscow has not been very vocal about its ability to use weapons of mass destruction—probably indicating that it believes it can gradually weaken Ukraine’s resistance through a grinding war. However, if Russian forces stumble, rhetoric and danger will correspondingly intensify. The paradox of this situation is that the more the West does to help Ukraine win, the greater the danger of Russia using nuclear weapons. The only reason why this dynamic is not understood in Washington is that it is believed that Putin is afraid to use nuclear weapons just like Washington—but it may not be the case, says Forbes.

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