web analytics

When Russia Threatens Nuclear War, Believe It

As more than 40 nations meet in Germany, Russia plays the nuclear threat card.

Over 40 nations met recently in Germany to discuss ways of supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion. Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov responded to the gathering with a threat of tactical nuclear response. The Kremlin official made the threat, many believe, to frighten countries pledging to support Ukraine. However, this is not the first time the Kremlin has rattled the nuclear saber. For the last several months, Moscow’s forces have been bogged down with a stalled military campaign, and now the Russians have raised the specter of using nuclear weapons.

In late February, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin put Moscow’s nuclear forces on the Kremlin’s highest state of alert. That move was on February 27 after only four full days of combat following Russia’s unprovoked invasion. On a morning talk show, State Department spokesman Ned Price said about Russia’s threatening language, “We are going to take a close look at what the Russians actually do. We are constantly assessing their nuclear posture. At this point, we’ve determined there’s no need for us to change our own nuclear posture.” Good to know. When it comes to atomic weapons, most Americans would prefer the national security team not wait for the Russians to “do” something.

At the end of a recent press conference, President Biden was asked about Russia’s alert status and if there was any reason for Americans to be alarmed about a possible Russian nuclear attack. Biden gave a short one-word response: ‘No.’ As events in the conflict in Ukraine have unfolded, Biden’s flip answer may have been wrong. “The correct answer was ‘yes,'” Gordon Chang, a national security expert, said in a commentary in Newsweek. Giving weight to Chang’s point of view.

As reported by Reuters, “Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned late on Monday [April 25] that: ‘NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war,’ saying the risks of nuclear conflict should not be underestimated.”

Cold war thinking during a time when nuclear deterrence was the “watch phrase,” should the conventional ground battle go badly for NATO forces; tactical nuclear weapons were an option. Now that the balance of conventional capability is essentially equal between Russia and NATO – though there is growing evidence Moscow’s forces may not be up to the quality of the West – Russia has restated its nuclear deterrence doctrine. Establishing the rationale for using atomic weapons, in June 2020, Putin signed off on the Fundamentals of State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence Number 355. The employment of nuclear weapons by the Russians must meet four primary conditions. According to GlobalSecurity.org, they are:

  1. Reliable information has been obtained about the launch of ballistic missiles attacking Russia.
  2. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have been used against Russia.
  3. An attack on “objects,” the failure of which will lead to the disruption of the response of nuclear forces; and
  4. There is aggression against Russia with conventional weapons, where the Russian state’s existence is threatened.
GettyImages-1240275281 Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

The last condition is the one that should concern the Biden administration and the NATO leadership. It is, after all, the reverse of the allies’ logic during the Soviet era. If Lavrov correctly represents Putin’s and Russian military leadership’s conviction, then Russia is at war with those supporting Ukraine. It is, as Lavrov calls it, a “proxy war.” The question is whether that condition rises to the level of condition four above.

Though it may be a nuanced factor, the US considers the element of distance from Russia and consequently enjoys the luxury of viewing nuclear engagements in terms of strategic, long-range, intercontinental ballistic missiles and short-range lower yield tactical weapons. On the other hand, Russia sees enemies surrounding the Motherland and makes no distinction between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.

When Putin published his 5,000-word essay last July explaining why he would invade Ukraine, the Biden administration did not pay much attention. Putin invaded Ukraine. Now Putin is threatening “he will use nuclear weapons against anyone who ‘interferes’ in Ukraine,” as Mark Reynolds wrote in the British news daily Express. Referring to Russia’s new nuclear-capable Sarmat 2 missile test recently, the Russian president said in a television address, “We have tools no-one else can boast of. We don’t want to brag about them…we will use them.” The Biden administration must take these threats more seriously than it appears it has in the past.

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

Read More From Dave Patterson

Latest Posts

Biden’s New Border Efforts a Failure

It has been more than a week since President Joe Biden took executive action on the border, reportedly to help...

Does Trump Have the Post-Conviction Mojo?

In the wake of 34 guilty verdicts, the Trump campaign team would likely have been suffering night sweats and...