According to a recent report, Russia is considering using nuclear weapons as a form of deterrence following significant military losses in Ukraine.
The recent report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) states that Russia’s significant casualties during their complete takeover of Ukraine have led them to place a higher value on their nuclear weapons as a means of preventing and defeating NATO. The IISS cautions that the West needs to acknowledge and address the growing danger of nuclear warfare.
On February 24, 2022, the invasion of Ukraine began with the first tanks crossing the border. In a televised address, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning to the world about facing unprecedented consequences if anyone attempted to intervene, which was viewed as a nuclear threat by the Kremlin.
The report from IISS states that the Western countries have been reluctant to provide weapons to Kyiv due to concerns about further conflict with Russia. However, a recently released intelligence report from the US revealed that since the beginning of the invasion, Russia has suffered a loss of approximately 315,000 soldiers in Ukraine. This amounts to nearly 90% of their pre-war military force, largely due to weapons provided by the West.
According to William Alberque, the Director of Strategy, Technology and Arms Control at IISS, Russia’s confidence in their conventional capabilities has decreased due to their losses in the Ukraine war.
According to Alberque, this indicates that the Kremlin is placing more significance on Moscow’s Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons (NSNW), which are intended for use on the battlefield.
“Russia possesses a variety of missiles, including short and medium range, that can be launched from air, ground, and sea. These missiles have the ability to carry nuclear warheads across the entire theatre, putting all of NATO in danger. On the other hand, NATO does not currently have a comparable capability to counter Russian capabilities.”
Russia has already placed non-strategic nuclear weapons in the territory of its ally Belarus, which neighbors several NATO states. Last week, Belarus announced it had adopted a new military doctrine. “The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on Belarus territory is an important component of the preventive deterrence of potential adversaries from unleashing armed aggression against Belarus. This is our forced measure,” Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said on January 20.
The IISS report mentions a June publication by prominent Russian political and military expert Sergei Karaganov, who leads the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. In this publication, he supports the idea of a tactical nuclear attack on a European country that is supportive of Ukraine, as a means of reestablishing deterrence against NATO.
In his paper entitled “A Challenging yet Crucial Choice,” Karaganov expressed the need to awaken the lost sense of self-preservation in the West and persuade them that their efforts to arm Ukraine will ultimately be detrimental to their own interests. He suggests that we must once again make a strong case for nuclear deterrence by reducing the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons.
Karaganov expressed concern about the morality of using God’s weapon, which may result in severe spiritual consequences. However, he argued that if Russia does not take action, not only could the country perish, but potentially the entire human civilization. He believes that by weakening the West’s determination to continue their aggression, Russia can not only save itself and break free from centuries of Western domination, but also save humanity as a whole.
Alberque points out that after Karaganov’s paper was published, numerous prominent political scientists in Russia have also joined in the discussion about nuclear issues.
Karaganov’s presidential endorsement was confirmed by Putin himself at the Valdai political conference in October of last year, where he singled out Karaganov from the attendees in the lakeside town of Valdai, located between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“Putin said (to Karaganov), ‘Yes, I read all of your papers. And I don’t think we need to strike NATO, but I do think I need additional options in terms of escalation with the U.S. and NATO in order to maintain deterrence,’” Alberque said, adding that those options increasingly involve non-strategic nuclear weapons.
“How can they determine the appropriate amount of nuclear weapons necessary to force us to surrender and seek peace, without causing the conflict to spiral out of their control and prompting us to attack strategic targets within Russia? Essentially, how can they prevent us from targeting Moscow and contain the conflict to a limited area?”
Alberque explained to VOA that Russia may see smaller nuclear weapon usage as controllable and potentially beneficial. This strategy, known as nuclear warfighting, aims to defeat the U.S. by preventing them from joining the war, such as by disabling their ability to send reinforcements from the mainland.
After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that if Russia were to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, it would significantly alter the dynamics of the conflict and result in repercussions.
According to the IISS report, Russia is of the opinion that NATO lacks the determination to retaliate using its own nuclear weapons. The report emphasizes the importance of the Western countries reevaluating their deterrence strategies.
“Must we implement identical NSNW systems? Or can we eliminate the Russian options by improving our integrated air and missile defenses? These are the issues that we need to resolve. It is a new quandary – or rather, a quandary that we have overlooked for far too long,” stated Alberque.