Will Putin Risk Using Nuclear Weapons Against Ukraine’s Armed Forces? – DW – 20.09.2022

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

“Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” So the President of the United States answered the CBS television company moderator’s question that: Joe Biden will tell Putinas he begins to lean towards the use of tactical nuclear weapons because of the counter-offensive of Ukraine’s armed forces and Russian losses in Ukraine.

This question was prompted by the ambiguous statements made by the Russian president and his press secretary, which were interpreted by some analysts as the threat from Moscow to use against the Ukrainian military. nuclear weapon theater of war. How real do Western experts consider such a threat? Their opinions were divided.

Successes of Ukraine’s Armed Forces and the Risk of Nuclear Escalation

Gerhard Mangott, a professor of international relations at the University of Innsbruck and an expert on Russia, admits that Putin could use such weapons if the Russian army needs to withdraw further – especially if, after the losses in the Kharkov region, there is a threat of the loss of Crimea. For starters, he can deliver some sort of nuclear warning shot, say, detonate an attack over the Black Sea, and if it doesn’t work, directly against Ukraine’s armed forces, Mangott believes.

Gerhard MangoPhoto: Celia di Paulic

A similar view is shared by retired British General Richard Barrons. “If Ukraine wins the war next year and Russia faces a defeat that threatens its security,” he said in an interview with Zeit Online, “then, according to Russian military doctrine, tactically nuclear weapon. We have to take that into account.”

According to an analyst for the American Wall Street Journal, the counter-offensive by Ukraine’s armed forces is not only a “major turn in the war”, but also poses a huge threat: “The heads of state and government of Western countries must do what he (Putin – Ed.) will use nuclear weapons or attempt to involve NATO directly in the conflict.”

Nuclear attack on Kiev?

A professor from the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, Carlo Masala, assesses the situation differently: “Of course the theoretical the ability to use chemical or nuclear weapons consists. But at the moment I think it’s extremely unlikely.”

Carlo MasalaPhoto: imago/Eibner

Masala gives purely strategic reasons that prevent the use of such weapons on the battlefield. “Where could Vladimir Putin actually strike,” the professor asks rhetorically, “in Kiev, so that the Ukrainians surrender? Hitting the front line is also futile: “Here he should risk the defeat of his own people.”

Professor Peter Neumann of Londoner King’s College research university also rules out Putin’s nuclear option. But for other reasons – because of the possible reaction of the West and especially the United States. “Putin understands that the United States in this case (the use of tactical nuclear weapons. – Red.) will immediately intervene actively in the course of hostilities, – explains the German expert. “That would be the end of Putin, and he knows it.” The same goes for chemical weapons: “It’s hard to imagine that the US and Europe will watch as Ukrainian civilians are poisoned and killed with mustard gas or phosgene.”

Consequences of the nuclear scenario

Gustav Gressel, a German military expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations, is also more of a skeptic. However, he admits that in the first phase offensive of the armed forces of Ukraine near Kharkov Russia’s use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield may have held him back. The Ukrainians are said to have lost at least half of the entire brigade’s personnel.

Gustav GresselPhoto: DW

“And if Russia dropped 20-30 atomic bombs on the Ukrainian army across the country, Ukraine would be over. But the use of nuclear weapons would have huge consequences for Putin.” The expert is thinking first of all about the position of neutral countries, from India to Brazil, where Putin says he has achieved remarkable diplomatic successes: “All this would be at great risk in such a scenario.”

Moreover, in this case the United States would not be excluded. “Using a single warhead would not stop the war,” he explains. “In that case, all restrictions in Washington would collapse with regard to arms supplies to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.

Russia will also not unexpectedly be able to use tactical nuclear weapons, Gressel is sure of that, as such an attack, unlike the launch of strategic missiles, involves a fairly long chain of command, and US and British intelligence have learned Russian intercepting military radio communications reasonably acceptable.

And yet the expert does not commit to completely ruling out the atomic scenario. Like Gerhard Mangott, he recognizes the possibility of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in the event of an imminent threat to Crimea. And also – if the Russian army starts a stampede on all fronts in Ukraine, and the soldiers fleeing back to Russia become a domestic political risk for Putin.

How does the German government assess the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons?

In the early days and weeks of the war, Russia’s nuclear status made the same impression on German officials and advisers to the Chancellor as a boa constrictor on a rabbit – they were sedated. This was noticeable in the briefings they held for journalists at the time.

It was precisely the fear of Russia’s strategic potential that robbed them of the ability to reason wisely and assess risk, and was perhaps the main reason for Berlin’s long indecision to supply Ukraine with all and later heavy weapons. How not to make Putin angry! How not to provoke a Russian nuclear attack!

The fear remained, of course, but in Berlin they learned to estimate the degree of risk realistically. So, at a government press conference on Monday, September 19, the representative of the German Defense Ministry, Colonel Arne Collatz, quite calmly answered a DW correspondent’s question about his department’s assessment of nuclear risks.

Of course, such an analysis is carried out and regularly updated, the colonel said. Specific assessments are a military secret, but consultations are underway on the subject, he said, both with Germany’s partners in NATO and at the interdepartmental level – the Defense Ministry with the German Foreign Ministry and the Chancellor’s Office.

Also see:

Life in Russian-occupied villages near Kharkov

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Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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