Putin’s nuclear threats increase the risk of disaster

In a rare televised address on Wednesday, Putin warned that if Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened, the Kremlin will “definitely use all the means at our disposal to defend Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimatum to the West sharply increases the risk of nuclear conflict, analysts and campaigners have warned, with world leaders condemning what they say are “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats.

In a rare televised address on Wednesday, Putin called for additional forces to the war in Ukraine and warned that if Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened, the Kremlin will use all means at our disposal to defend Russia and our people. not a bluff.”

This was widely interpreted as a threat that Putin is ready to use nuclear weapons to escalate the war after several advances in Ukraine.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev doubled down on the Kremlin’s nuclear posture on Thursday, saying that all weapons in Russia’s arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend Russian territories.

It came as pro-Moscow regional leaders in southern and eastern Ukrainian regions announced a referendum on joining Russia. Voting is expected to take place in the Russian-controlled regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, which are said to make up about 15% of Ukraine’s territory.

The results of the referendums are widely believed to have been predetermined by the Kremlin, prompting the US and its allies to denounce them as “rigging”.

Political analysts say the Kremlin may then view Ukraine’s military action against those four regions as an attack on Russia itself.

“Citizens of Russia can be sure that the territorial integrity, independence and freedom of our homeland will be guaranteed, I emphasize this again, with all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.

Putin’s threats drastically increase the risk of an escalation of a nuclear conflict. This is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible.

Beatrice Fihn

Executive Director of ICAN

“These statements go beyond Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which refers to Russia’s first use in conventional warfare when the country’s existence is threatened,” said Andrey Baklitskiy, a senior researcher at the WMD and Other Strategic Weapons Program. United Nations Institute for Disarmament Studies.

“Coming from a person who has the sole right to decide on Russia’s nuclear weapons, it has to be taken seriously,” Baklitsky said, noting that Putin’s reference to “territorial integrity” was difficult to pin down, given that the Kremlin intends to adopt it. four regions of Ukraine.

“None of this means that Russia will go nuclear. That would be a truly world-changing decision,” Baklitskiy said.

“And it is not clear that such a move would even produce any desired results [President] Putin. … But expanding the terms of possible use in the middle of an ongoing war is a huge gamble,” he added. “We would all be safer without it, including Russia.”

“Reducing the Taboo”

US President Joe Biden condemned Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons and urged allied UN leaders to reject Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Biden accused the Kremlin of making “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats and said: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

His comments echoed those of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who told Reuters on Wednesday that the 30-nation Western defense alliance would remain calm and not engage in “the same reckless and dangerous nuclear rhetoric as President Putin.”

Beatrice Fihn, Nobel laureate and executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, called on political leaders to renew efforts to get rid of all nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

Putin has repeatedly hinted at Russian nuclear weapons during the conflict in Ukraine. However, Western leaders doubt that Moscow will use a weapon of mass destruction.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told German media on Wednesday that he does not believe the world will allow Putin to use nuclear weapons.

Beatrice Fihn, Nobel laureate and executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told CNBC that Putin’s “incredibly dangerous and irresponsible” threats drastically increase the risk of a nuclear conflict escalating.

“Threats to use nuclear weapons lower the threshold for their use,” Fihn said by email. “The subsequent discussion by politicians and commentators about the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia and possible nuclear responses, without even discussing the disastrous humanitarian impact of the use of so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons, diminishes the taboo against their use.

Fihn called on the international community to “unanimously condemn any and all nuclear threats” and urged political leaders to renew efforts to get rid of all nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

‘No Going Back’

Max Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, described Putin’s nuclear threats as “a very significant announcement.”

“The real danger in Putin’s speech was that he is willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, including territory that they intend to annex,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”

“This includes not only the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the traditional Donbass, but also all of Zaporizhzhia and all of Kherson – regions of Ukraine that are still highly contested and where the Russians do not control their entirety.”

“What this means for the territories still under Ukrainian control in terms of Putin’s threats remains to be seen,” Hess added.

If Putin were to use a so-called tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, there would be “no going back” or “negotiations,” according to Timothy Ash, emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.

In such a scenario, Putin “is done with the West forever, and probably even China, India, South Africa, the BRICS and the rest of the non-aligned world will turn against him,” Ash said. The BRICS acronym refers to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

A weapon of mass destruction, or weapons of mass destruction, “is a deterrent,” Ash said. “When it’s used, it actually loses its power.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC on Friday.