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Putin Postures, Says Russia Is Ready to Use Nukes

America’s nuclear credibility is on the line.

Are President Vladimir Putin’s public threats about using nuclear weapons credible? The prudent answer is that whenever the leader of Russia talks about using nuclear weapons, his words must be taken seriously. Publicly, the Biden administration tends to downplay such threats from the Kremlin. The US has for decades considered a nuclear conflict unthinkable. But Putin seems to be thinking about it all the same.

Russia Frequently Raises the Nuclear Threat

Now, however, Biden has an adversary frequently raising the possibility of using nuclear weapons if the US or NATO occupy Russian territory. The threat of going atomic has been an integral part of the Putin narrative in his invective toward the West in general and the US specifically. As it is now, that threat is tied to a mythology that whatever piece of European real estate the Russian leader has designs on is territory belonging to Russia. Hence, the Kremlin’s threat umbrella casts a larger shadow with each piece of ground Russian soldiers occupy, whether it is the illegal annexation of Crimea, the sham election making the Donbas region of Ukraine part of Russia, Russian troops occupying Georgia’s breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or – most recently – Moscow’s play for more influence in Moldova.

There should be no confusion on the part of US national security policymakers. Putin has been very candid about his beliefs and intentions. In 2022, after eight months of brutal fighting following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia, The New York Times observed:

“President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in an angry speech last month full of bluster and anti-American rhetoric, clearly raised the specter of using nuclear weapons to hold on to his slipping territorial gains in Ukraine. Mr. Putin said he would use ‘all available means’ to defend Russian territory — which he declared includes four provinces of eastern Ukraine that Russia has attempted to illegally annex.”

After over two years of conflict in Ukraine, Moscow’s strongman has not changed his threatening rhetoric in the slightest. At the end of last month, “Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday (February 29) to fulfill Moscow’s goals in Ukraine, and sternly warned the West against deeper involvement in the fighting, saying that such a move is fraught with the risk of a global nuclear conflict,” Vladimir Isachenkov wrote for the Associated Press. In recent weeks, Putin has stressed the nuclear weapons option as a persistent refrain.

According to a Reuters report, in a March 13 interview with Moscow’s Rossiya-1 and the Russian news agency RIA, when asked about the potential for the use of nuclear weapons, Putin was unambiguous. “From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course ready,” he explained. More to the point, Russia’s president made clear his belief that the US fully appreciated that if it put “American troops on Russian Territory – or [in]to Ukraine – Russia would treat the move as an intervention.”

The US Must Take Putin’s Statements Seriously

Many believe Putin’s statements are bluster designed for Russian consumption as an overture to the March 15-17 national elections, where no one doubts the current president will win another six-year term. “The United States has not adjusted its nuclear posture as a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new nuclear saber-rattling, a US official said on Wednesday [March 13],” Fox News reported. Nonetheless, dismissing Putin’s warnings is naïve and ultimately perilous thinking.

Russia, as well as other nuclear-armed adversaries, have been held in check by, if not a firm understanding, a healthy level of doubt that the use of atomic weapons on the battlefield would bring an equal if not more devastating response. Maintaining that deterrence is critical. However, the Biden administration has not been known for credible resolve. Furthermore, as Liberty Nation observed in its article, “Report Shows US Nuclear Posture Inadequate,” a Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States concluded that “with a rapidly changing threat, the US nuclear posture is not up to the task.”

Russia raising the specter of using nuclear weapons to achieve its hegemonic aims should shake the NATO alliance and, specifically, the US out of its geopolitical lethargy. Taking Putin seriously and preparing to mete out an unacceptable and devastating response to any country so foolish as to use atomic weapons first would be a start. Getting the US nuclear posture in order is essential. It is the essence of deterrence.

In his monograph Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age, the late Michael Novak said in regard to the Soviet Union: “In the meantime, we must dissuade the worst impulses of that regime from being realized. We do so through unyielding and unbroken strength, strength of soul and strength of arms.” Today, those words seem most appropriate for Putin’s Russia – and the Biden administration must show that strength.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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