w/e 21st October 2022
As I’ve been saying until I’m almost, but not quite, blue in the face, the chances of Putin using nuclear weapons in the Russo-Ukraine war are very small indeed. I have said this for three main reasons: the first is that Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal mainly dates back to the Soviet era and has been in storage since the 1990s. Nobody outside of the Russian military knows what sort of state it is now in, whether it has been properly serviced and maintained, or indeed whether the weapons are likely to work at all.
The second is that, contrary to what some in the general public might think, the warheads are not sitting on top of their delivery systems – ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, artillery shells and the like – waiting for the off. They are stored in bunkers and arsenals and need to be outloaded and transported to their delivery systems.
The minute that starts to happen the west will know, thanks to the plethora of surveillance platforms watching Russia’s every move. The Americans have made in plain to Putin, both publically and privately, that any indication of the planned use of nuclear weapons, or nuclear, chemical and biological for that matter, will bring down the wrath of the USA and NATO upon them, and it will be terrible to behold.
And thirdly, should push come to shove and the war in Ukraine goes nuclear, it’s the beginning of the end game for Putin and Russia, because they will lose, and lose catastrophically. Russia has little to gain from employing its nuclear weapons at any level, and everything to lose. To do so would signal the end of Putin and very possibly the end of Russia as we recognise it today.
But we can never totally dismiss the threat of nuclear weapons, even if it relates to the detonation of a low yield tactical weapon over or in an unpopulated area of sea. This would represent a serious escalation in the conflict, and I suspect the consequences would be serious too, for Russia at least.
We need to consider this in the overall context of the war’s progress. Currently, Russia is losing, and Putin is casting around for something to reassure the Russian political elite and general population that he knows what he’s doing (which he patently obviously doesn’t) and all will be well in the end.
No, by his threats Putin is seeking to continue his bullying of the west to keep the USA and NATO out of Ukraine and direct confrontation. And we all know that the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them. Western leaders need to grow some cojones and do so.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available for pre-order now