Ukraine war drives shift in Russian nuclear thinking

January 23, 2024 2:34 pm

[Source: Reuters]

The war in Ukraine has dented Russia’s confidence in its conventional forces and increased the importance to Moscow of non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) as a means of deterring and defeating NATO in a potential future conflict, a leading Western think-tank said on Monday.

NSNWs include all nuclear weapons with a range of up to 5,500 km (3,400 miles), starting with tactical arms designed for use on the battlefield – as opposed to longer-range strategic nuclear weapons that Russia or the U.S. could use to strike each other’s homeland.

Monday’s report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) raised the question of whether Russia might be emboldened to fire a NSNW in the belief that the West lacks the resolve to deliver a nuclear response.

Article continues after advertisement

It said the logic of using a NSNW would be to escalate a conflict in a controlled fashion, “either to prevent the US and NATO from engaging, or to coerce them into war termination on Russian terms”.

Moscow denies wielding nuclear threats but several of President Vladimir Putin’s statements since the onset of the war in Ukraine have been interpreted as such in the West – starting on day one of the Russian invasion when he warned of “consequences that you have never faced in your history” for anyone who tried to hinder or threaten Russia.

His warnings, however, have not prevented the U.S. and its NATO allies from providing massive military aid to Ukraine including advanced weapons systems that were unthinkable at the start of the war.

Putin has resisted hawkish calls to alter Russia’s stated doctrine, which allows for nuclear use in the event of “aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened”. But he has shifted Russia’s stance on key nuclear treaties and said he is deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.