with good reason, Vladimir Putin He has been compared to a mafia boss. A lot of organized crime, a system of punishments / rewards, exemplary violence and a whole pyramidal structure under his tight control. However, with each passing day in this disastrous war for his regime, Putin looks much less like Michael Corleone in the saga of ‘The Godfather’ and much more to Tony Montana in the last scenes of ‘Scarface’.
Their growing desperation has been accompanied by renewed nuclear threats. With the formal annexation of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, Putin may try to justify the end of the nuclear taboo maintained since the end of the Second World War by converting the legitimate defense of the Ukrainians into an attack against Russia. In any case, not since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 has the world seen the use of nuclear weapons as so likely.
The first big question of this escalation is what kind of nuclear payload Putin would be tempted to use. In this sense, nuclear weapons are divided into two broad categories: tactical and strategic. Strategic packs enough power to level a large city thousands of miles from any battlefield. However, in Ukraine there is speculation of the use of much smaller tactical nuclear weapons.
employment on the battlefield
Although in the case of nuclear weapons, their size should not be trivialized. Tactical nuclear warheads are designed for use on the battlefield to strike targets in very specific areas. Even so, the destruction capacity of most of these small charges is superior to that of the atomic bomb used by the US against the Japanese city of Hiroshima, which had an explosive power equivalent to about 20 kilotons of TNT.
Both the Soviet Union and the US maintained huge stockpiles of tactical nuclear payloads during the Cold War. But after the collapse of the USSR, Washington gave up most of these warheads, retaining as few as 230 usable like aircraft bombs. According to the logic assumed by the Pentagon, the development of increasingly devastating conventional weapons had made tactical nuclear payloads obsolete.
In contrast to the American reduction, Russia has retained nearly 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads, usable as aircraft bombs, missiles, torpedoes, depth charges, artillery, and possibly land mines. With the possibility of being installed in various systems normally used to launch conventional explosives, such as Kalibr cruise missiles or Iskander-M ballistic missiles.
Most of these small charges are greater than that of the atomic bomb used by the US against the Japanese city of Hiroshima
If he chose to use one of these loads, Putin would have three possibilities. The first would have a warning character. It could be a detonation underground, over the Black Sea, in the skies over Ukraine, or in an uninhabited place like Snake Island. The electromagnetic pulse from the explosion would destroy unprotected electronic equipment and the radioactive fallout, although large at first, would reduce to about 1% of the initial radioactive explosion in 48 hours. As the specialists anticipate, most of the radioactive dust absorbed in a rising cloud by the explosion would settle within 24 hours after the impact and could be an extreme biological hazard. Other particles could be dispersed by prevailing winds.
The second scenario contemplates an attack on a Ukrainian military target, a small town or key infrastructure. This option has its limitations in the case of Ukraine, since the military forces of the kyiv Government are deployed in a fairly dispersed manner. According to Pentagon calculations, a one-kiloton warhead must detonate within 300 feet of a tank to inflict serious damage.
The third possibility, the use of a tactical nuclear payload against a NATO member country, would be by far the most catastrophic. Some Russian specialists have warned against thinking that Putin will only respond to his defeats on the battlefield by using nuclear weapons against Ukraine. That scenario would open the doors to a catastrophic escalation that would begin with Article V of the Atlantic Alliance Treaty, which supposes a collective defense response.
So far, Ukraine’s allies have been unwilling to specify what their response to the use of a nuclear weapon by Russia. It is considered from the complete disconnection of the Russian economy to the elimination of all the forces deployed by the Kremlin in Ukraine. In this very dangerous context, the lack of details on Western retaliation is deliberate as deterrence is based on ambiguity.
In any case, there is no small nuclear bomb no matter how limited its payload. Due to its great difficulty of use, more than a weapon of war, it is a weapon of terror and intimidation. Perhaps from Washington, a tactical nuclear bomb is affordable, but in Europe, from Spain to Ukraine, it would have unforeseeable consequences.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism