Russia’s rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons last week contained seemingly mixed signals.
First, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu summoned his Western counterparts, Ukraine claims it is preparing to use a radioactive “dirty bomb” — not a nuclear weapon per se, but could be used in a false flag attack as a pretext for Russia’s nuclear escalation. But then President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday A reassurance that his forces are not planning a nuclear attack on Ukraine after a tactical nuclear exercise.
It is impossible to know what Putin is really thinking, and how far he intends to go to justify continued attacks on Ukraine, but it is impossible to know if Russia is currently planning a nuclear attack. There is reason not to accept this week’s message from Moscow as an indication that
An expert told Vox A plausible explanation is that this An attempt to pressure the West to force Ukraine into a peaceful settlement. The war is not going well for the Russian military, and Europe faces long, cold winters without Russian energy supplies. It is also an attempt to distort the information environment and sow the seeds of confusion and disinformation. It is an integral part of Russian war theory.
Throughout Russia’s seven-month war on Ukraine (and even before that), Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons in response to perceived attacks from NATO and the West. But Wednesday’s training isn’t necessarily a sign he’s following. Russia’s defense machinery has alerted the US Pentagon to follow protocol, and NATO has launched its own nuclear exercises on October 17.
Russia’s explanation that Ukraine plans to use dirty bombs bears striking parallels with the false claim that rebels carried out a chemical attack in Syria. Western officials and experts do not consider the dirty bomb claim to be credible, but Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov contacted both US and UK officials on Monday to issue a warning. expressed. Shoigu delivered the same message to defense officials in the United States, Britain, France and Turkey on Sunday, according to the Institute for War Studies (ISW). Monday’s call was the first since May between Gerasimov and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley. That it happened is a positive development, MeIt shows that communication channels between Russia and the West still exist, reducing the likelihood of escalation.
But it is also an indicator that Moscow is likely trying to pollute the information space and raise questions within the United States. Catherine Lawler, senior intelligence analyst at ISW, told Vox that the West is concerned about the risks of aiding Ukraine in its ongoing battle for sovereignty.
“The fact that we’re having these conversations means it’s working,” she said.
Putin may be trying to escalate, but not the way we think
As with many nuclear stances, the point of Russia’s recent moves on nuclear weapons may not be to actually use them, but to pressure them to sow fear and chaos.
This week’s nuclear training itself is nothing new. They are planned and Russian defense officials have warned the U.S. Department of Defense that they are underway as they must be done by Moscow in accordance with its obligations as a signatory to the New START Treaty. We will continue to monitor this as Russia complies with its arms control obligations and transparency commitments and notifies us,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday. .
The drill simulated a potential attack response and revitalized Russia’s air, land and sea defenses, Reuters reported on Thursday.
However, it is important to keep in mind that such training is not just training, it is also a show of power and, in a way, propaganda. That’s why experts continued to monitor the drill this week, according to Natia Sescuria, an associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute.
“Right now, Russia is increasingly using nuclear threats to blackmail Western countries,” she told Vox in an email. “Last time Russia did such a drill just before starting a war in Ukraine,” so the drill could indicate some form of escalation, but not necessarily in a nuclear sense.
“Putin appears to be putting more pressure on the West to cover up the fact that Russian conventional forces have had no success in Ukraine. It hopes to try to persuade Ukraine to negotiate and accept concessions.
Putin has previously warned of a readiness to use nuclear weapons in the event of the 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, and Russia’s nuclear theory sees it as an initial response to conventional warfare rather than a nuclear attack. permits the use of According to his April report for the Congressional Research Service, “This doctrine has led some US analysts to conclude that Russia has adopted an ‘escalate to escalate’ strategy.”
Although Ukraine is not a NATO member (and has applied for membership), it is backed by the United States and other NATO allies, providing arms and training to the Ukrainian military to great effect. During the war, however, NATO members have taken care to avoid direct conflict with Russia or the possibility or appearance of an attack on Russian territory.
Dirty bomb rhetoric is also an old tactic — similar to Russia’s claims in Syria of the rebel group, the White Helmets Relief Group. actually carry out the attack. Since then, Russian government-affiliated Twitter accounts and media sources have repeatedly amplified Russia’s claims.
Now, “Russian state media are spreading accusations of ‘dirty bombs’ and instilling fear,” Sescuria told Vox. “Russian media play a large part in mobilizing public opinion and are part of the Kremlin’s war propaganda machine,” she said, adding, “The accusations of ‘dirty bombs’ [are] Domestic consumption is also directed in relation to Russia likely preparing a false flag operation. ”
What could happen next?
Putin said on Thursday that despite his threatening rhetoric earlier, Russia would not attack Ukraine with nuclear weapons.
Putin said it was “meaningless politically or militarily” and said his statement that he would use all means at his disposal to protect Russia was a response to the threat from the West. claimed.
While President Putin’s threat to use tactical nuclear weapons should be taken seriously, several preparatory steps are required before such weapons can actually be used on the battlefield. “I think we’ll see additional steps on the escalation ladder before we get [to a nuclear attack], testing ground weapons, etc.,” Lawler said. The public may learn about such procedures through leaks from U.S. and allied intelligence agencies, as significant backchannel conversations take place. US officials such as Secretary of State Antony Brinken have indicated that they take the possibility of escalation seriously, but the evidence so far does not indicate an imminent use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
Moreover, such weapons are likely to be of little use to Russia, given their rather limited frontline utility and the inability of Russian conscripts to really fight in that landscape. Operationally, I do not believe that the Russian military is ready to fight in a nuclear environment: the “correct” doctrine use of nuclear weapons […] Basically, it would be used to punch holes in the Ukrainian lines,” said Lawler, allowing Russian mechanized units to push Ukrainian units from behind and attack them.
Given the situation of the Russian military so far, it is unlikely that they will successfully implement these plans. “Even the units trained for it are very degraded at this point,” Lawler said. Are you going to tell me you’re about to invade an area that’s been exposed to radiation? Absolutely not.”
Given how devastating NATO’s response to tactical nuclear weapons has been, Putin’s immediate goal is to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield to deter further Ukrainian forces and enable Russian forces to advance. “The operational implications of the NATO retaliation in Ukraine are likely to target Russian forces, presumably command posts, logistics, etc., rather than concentration of forces, and front lines.” It would annihilate his operational ability to continue advancing along the
The threat of nuclear weapons and fake dirty bombs doesn’t make much sense from a logistical point of view, nor is it new.
As Ankit Panda, a Stanton Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner earlier this month, that doesn’t mean the West can ignore Putin’s nuclear stance: The risks are too great. “Hopefully this is where we don’t really have to go, but of course governments are planning for all sorts of contingencies and with the lingering prospect of nuclear escalation, These conversations have been going on behind closed doors for months,” he said. To that end, the US has also sent a warning to Moscow against the use of nuclear weapons, The Washington Post reported in September.
But sowing discord, confusion, and disinformation into the information space is a tested and known part of Russia’s asymmetric warfare doctrine, and Ukraine and its partners have intentionally Don’t expect to settle down anytime soon.