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Russia Threatens a Hot Nuclear Cloud Over the United Kingdom

Stung by UK leaders arming Ukrainian forces, the Kremlin plays Big Bad Wolf.

Ukraine’s military has been the beneficiary of a variety of offensive and defensive weapons from friends and allies, some of which can reach out and touch Russia. Although it started the war, Moscow takes a dim view of that capability. Apparently, the Kremlin believes in the ebb and flow, give and take of combat when Russia assaults the sovereign Ukraine homeland but rails at the thought of “receiving” when it comes to Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil.

Russia Frequently Makes Threats

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not new to making threats. Early in his unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine, he said he might use nuclear weapons. Putin placed atomic warheads in Belarus, and the fact that Russian nuclear weapons are close to Ukraine in the east and Belarus to the north is a menace to NATO countries. So far, the Kremlin’s nuclear saber-rattling seems to stop at threats.

But recently, “[t]he Russian foreign ministry summoned British Ambassador Nigel Casey to the Kremlin … and warned him that if Ukrainian forces use British weaponry to attack Russia, Moscow could hit ‘any UK military facility and equipment on Ukrainian territory and beyond,’” the UK’s Daily Mail reported. Moscow’s feathers were ruffled when, during a visit to Kyiv, British Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron made a public statement that Ukraine was well within its rights to use the UK-furnished weapons as its armed forces saw fit, with no limitations.

“Moscow has been barraging Ukrainian energy facilities, triggering blackouts and energy rationing across the country,” Voice of America reported. Kyiv’s drones have been attacking Russia’s logistics and energy infrastructure in retaliation for Moscow’s persistent assaults on Ukraine power plants. “In recent months, Russian refineries and oil terminals have become priority targets of Ukrainian drone attacks, part of stepped-up assaults on Russian territory,” the Associated Press explained. Reports from the region described fires at an electrical substation and a blaze at “fuel and energy complexes.”

The diplomatic dressing-down Casey received may be part of a broader attempt by Russia to put NATO — in particular the nuclear nations, the US, UK, and France — on notice. As part of the bellicose rhetoric from Putin’s government, a May 6 “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment” by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) observed:

“The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported on May 6 that Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian General Staff to prepare to conduct non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons exercises to ‘practice the preparation and use’ of tactical nuclear weapons. The Russian MoD stated that these exercises will involve missile formations of Russia’s Southern Military District as well as Russian aviation and naval forces.”

The ISW analysis pointed out that Russia’s pretext for its nuclear bluster is the fact that the United States has nuclear capability in various parts of the world. Additionally, the Kremlin asserted that the arrival of F-16s in Ukraine represented an escalation of the conflict since F-16 fighter aircraft are capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons. What the Russian foreign ministry conveniently neglected to say is that most of the Russian fighters and bombers being used against Ukraine are nuclear-capable aircraft. It’s also interesting to note that the current crop of threats coincides with large shipments of Western resupply of crucially needed weapons to Kyiv.

An Attack on One Is an Attack on All

Nonetheless, it seems ill-advised for the Kremlin foreign ministry to single out the British for a scolding when an attack on UK military forces would be an attack on NATO and bring down the military resources of 32 nations against Russian troops. That should cause Putin some concern. However, whatever the Russian leader’s frame of mind, dismissing any Kremlin threats is not a useful tactic. NATO nations, particularly new members and former Warsaw Pact participants, do not cower in the face of Moscow’s threats. Recent additions to the alliance — Sweden and Finland — are exposed to potential Russian aggression right on their borders. The Scandinavian alliance countries — Norway, Sweden, and Finland — have all increased spending on defense above NATO’s 2%-of-GDP goal.

When the Russian bear starts growling around and threatening to go nuclear, it’s no time to go wobbly. There is a reason the United States is the foremost nuclear nation: It’s to deter Putin from acting out his threats.

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

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