Putin 'will use nuclear weapons if facing defeat' says expert
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The threat of nuclear war has become a hallmark of the Ukrainian conflict, with Russia regularly issuing thinly veiled threats at the West should it become more involved in Moscow’s invasion. Only this weekend did Aleksey Zhuravlyov, the deputy chairman of the Kremlin’s defence committee, warn that a nuclear strike could wipe out Britain in less than four minutes and Finland in ten seconds. Footage of commentators on Russian state-backed media regularly surfaces on English language social media appearing to show analysis and animated diagrams of Russia’s nuclear capabilities that would destroy “the enemy”.
Threats were even made in retaliation to Finland and Sweden joining NATO early on in the conflict, the two countries increasingly worried about their positions outside of an alliance-backed military bloc and close proximity to Russia.
Yet, as both nations confirmed their applications to join NATO this week, Putin undertook a surprising U-turn, saying that Russia had “no problems” with their membership bids.
This contrasted sharply with his previous comments, and remarks made by his Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who said the Nordic nations were making a “grave mistake” that would have “far-reaching consequences.”
For years Russia has made use of its status as a nuclear powerhouse, regularly reminding the world that it could easily wipe many countries off the face of the at the push of a button.
One figure within the upper echelons of the Kremlin who is aware of this more than most is Nikolai Patrushev, the man described as a “villain” in Russia and Putin’s right hand man.
Patrushev is believed to be in the running to take over Russia if Putin is required to undergo surgery and spend a period of time in recovery.
The 70-year-old is secretary of Russia’s Security Council, a body that holds great influence in the Kremlin and is chaired by Putin.
It guides Russia’s domestic military and security issues, with most of the power vested to Patrushev, who is, as a result, seen as one of Putin’s closest and most loyal supporters, belonging to the siloviki faction of his inner circle which consists of former KGB officers.
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In 2009, the US tried to get Russia to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile, with Russia responding by saying it was weighing-up changes to its military doctrine that would allow for a “preventive” nuclear strike against its enemies — including even those armed with only conventional weapons.
At the time, in an interview with Izvestia, a Russian newspaper, Patrushev, recently promoted to the security council role, outlined what the new doctrine meant, making clear that Russia was not ruling-out using a nuclear strike in the future.
He said: “[The new doctrine offers] different options to allow the use of nuclear weapons, depending on a certain situation and intentions of a would-be enemy.
“In critical national security situations, one should also not exclude a preventive nuclear strike against the aggressor.”
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He added that Russia was revising its rules for the employment of nukes to repel conventional armed attackers, “not only in large-scale, but also in a regional and even a local war.”
At the time Russia had invaded Georgia and was engaged in a full-scale conflict against what was once a former Soviet state, and a country which it considers, along with Ukraine, in its sphere of influence — in short, outside the West.
Many feared that this “first strike” option that the Russian Federation was moving to adopt could be deployed in Georgia, whose military attempted to fend off Russian personnel who had crossed the border from the north and entered two self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
To this day, Russia occupies 20 percent of Georgia’s territory, with South Ossetia in recent weeks having set a referendum for Russian membership in July, while Abkhazia says it does not plan on holding such a ballot, although Russian troops remain there.
While Patrushev’s words never materialised into a nuclear strike, today, officials continue to stress the reality of a desperate Putin willing to use nuclear weapons in the event of failure.
Last week, Avril Haines, director of US national intelligence, warned the US Senate that Putin could view the prospect of defeat in Ukraine as an existential threat to his regime and so be drawn into using nukes.
She said: “We do think that [Putin’s perception of an existential threat] could be the case in the event that he perceives that he is losing the war in Ukraine, and that NATO in effect is either intervening or about to intervene in that context, which would obviously contribute to a perception that he is about to lose the war in Ukraine.
“There are a lot of things that he would do in the context of escalation before he would get to nuclear weapons, and also that he would be likely to engage in some signalling beyond what he’s done thus far before doing so.”
However, Russia’s signalling that it accepts Finland and Sweden’s NATO ambitions could prove a turning point in the war of rhetoric.
Responding to the countries’ bids, Putin said: “As for the expansion [of NATO], including through new members of the alliance — Finland, Sweden — Russia wants to inform you that it has no problems with these states.
“Therefore, in this sense, expansion on account of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia.”
However, in a reference to NATO’s arming of the Baltic states, which all border either mainland Russia or Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave, he said: “The expansion of military infrastructure on this territory will undoubtedly cause us to respond,” adding that NATO’s “endless expansionary policy” also “required additional attention on our part.”
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