Sunday, December 10

What could happen if Putin used nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

The veiled threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin in case the «territorial integrity» of Russia is threatened, generated intense discussions in the West about a possible response.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff»Putin said. “Those who they try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can turn against them,” he added.

However, many analysts are not convinced that Putin wants to be the first to trigger nuclear attackssince the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.

AFP spoke to various experts and officials about possible scenarios that could arise should Russia carry out a nuclear attack. Analysts say Moscow is likely to deploy one or more “tactical” nuclear weapons.

Is about small atomic weapons with an explosive power ranging from 0.3 to 100 kilotons, compared to the 1.2 megatons of the largest US strategic nuclear warhead or the 58 megaton bomb tested by Russia in 1961.

Tactical bombs are designed to have a limited impact on the battlefield, while strategic weapons are designed to fight and win merciless wars.

relative terms

However, the terms “small” and “limited” are relative. The atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, with devastating effect, had a power of 15 kilotons.

Experts believe that Russia’s goal in using tactical nuclear weapons would be provoke fear to force Ukraine to surrender or submit to negotiations, and thus divide Western countries that support the war.

Mark Cancian, a military expert with the CSIS international security program in Washington, said Russia probably don’t resort to your weapons nukes on the front line.

catch some 32 kilometers of territory it could require about 20 small nuclear bombs, which would be a small advance compared to the high risk of radioactive fallout. “Using one would not be enough,” says Cancian.

But Moscow could avoid multiple casualties detonating a nuclear bomb over water or exploding one high above Ukraine to generate an electromagnetic pulse that would knock out electronic equipment.

Or it could opt for further destruction and death by attacking Ukrainian military bases, or hitting an urban center like kyiv, inflicting massive casualties and possibly killing the country’s political leadership.

Such scenarios “would probably be designed to split the NATO Alliance and the global consensus against Putin,” Jon Wolfsthal, a former White House adviser and nuclear expert, wrote in Substack. But “it’s unclear whether this could succeed, and could easily be seen as both an act of desperation and determination,” he explained.

the West has remained ambiguous about its response to a possible tactical nuclear strike from Russia, and the choices are complicated.

Neither weakness nor escalation

The United States and NATO do not want to appear weak in the face of an implied nuclear threat. But they also want to prevent the war in Ukraine, a country that is not a member of the Atlantic Alliance, from turning into a larger and more devastating global nuclear war.

Experts believe that the West may have no choice but to answer, and that such a response could come from NATO as a bloc, rather than a response from the United States alone. But any response should “both ensure that Putin’s military situation is not improved by such an attack, and that his political, economic and military position suffers as a result,” Wolfsthal estimates.

The United States has positioned a hundred their own tactical nukes in NATO countries and could respond to the same level against Russian forces.

This would show determination and remind Moscow of the danger of its actions, according to Matthew Kroenig of the Atlantic Council. However, “this may also provoke a Russian nuclear retaliation, raising the risk of a further nuclear exchange and a greater humanitarian disaster.”

Another risk is that some NATO members will reject a nuclear response, serving Putin’s goals of weakening the Alliance. Responding to a Russian nuclear attack on a more conventional way militarily or diplomatically, and providing Ukraine with more lethal weapons to attack Russia may be more effective, some experts say.

«A Russian nuclear use can be a start to convince countries that have so far shown reluctant – like India and possibly China – to participate in the escalation of sanctions, “says Kroenig.

In addition, the United States could offer Ukraine NATO aircraft, Patriot anti-missile and THAAD anti-missile batteries, as well as ATACMS long-range missiles that could be used by the Ukrainians. to hit Russia within its territory.

“Whatever restrictions we have (on the weapons provided to the Ukrainian forces, ndlr.), and I think there are several, I think they all have to be removed,” says Cancian.

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