Medvedev Reaffirms “Existential Threat” Justification for Nuclear War over Ukraine: The idea of the “existential threat” that Russia would consider a justification for the use of nuclear weapons throughout the invasion of Ukraine has remained somewhat vague and undefined ever since Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov first referenced it in March.
During an interview with CNN only weeks into the invasion, Peskov responded to a question about the possible use of nuclear weapons.
“We have a concept of domestic security and, well, it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” Peskov said at the time. “If it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used.”
Since then, Kremlin officials and pro-Kremlin journalists have offered their own ideas of what might constitute an “existential threat,” and despite Peskov claiming the issue was entirely “separate” from the war in Ukraine, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev this week suggested otherwise.
What Did Medvedev Say?
Medvedev, who currently serves as the deputy chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, said in a Telegram post that Russia will use nuclear weapons if its allies are attacked with nuclear weapons, or “if the aggression with the use of conventional weapons threatens the existence of our state.”
The Russian official made it clear that the use of nuclear weapons by NATO or other forces would not be necessary for Russia to launch a nuclear strike and doubled down on the idea of an “existential threat” to Russia as a justification for the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
Not only did the Russian official suggest that Russia could use nuclear weapons – perhaps the only thing the Kremlin has left, other than deploying hundreds of thousands of woefully unprepared troops – but he also claimed that NATO wouldn’t help Ukraine if Russia used nuclear weapons against Kyiv. The message, however, was unclear.
On the one hand, Medvedev claimed that British Prime Minister Liz Truss was “completely ready to immediately begin an exchange of nuclear strikes” with Russia, but at the same time argued that NATO member states would protect their own security over a “dying Ukraine that no one needs.”
Embarrassed by the Russian military’s poor performance throughout the invasion, and particularly worried about its major losses following Ukraine’s recent counter-offensive, the Kremlin looks set on using nuclear warfare to ensure victory in Ukraine. It may simply be a question of when Russia decides to press the button and where the first nuclear strike since the Second World War could take place.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.