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What Will NATO Do if Russia Nukes Ukraine?

Nuclear Weapons
Image: Creative Commons.

The White House officially responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear war, which were issued last Wednesday in a national address to the Russian people. On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the White House had already communicated with the Kremlin about the threats.

“We have communicated directly, privately and at very high levels to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the U.S. and our allies will respond decisively, and we have been clear and specific about what that will entail,” Sullivan said in an interview for CBS’s Face the Nation.

Sullivan also recognized that Putin and the Kremlin have made multiple veiled threats of the use of nuclear weapons throughout the conflict and that the recent escalation – which included a commitment to deploy an additional 300,000 troops to eastern Ukraine – was a step too far. Sullivan said that Putin had been “waving round the nuclear card” periodically throughout the conflict and that the White House has been forced to take the recent threats, and the prospect of the use of nuclear weapons for the first time since the Second World War, “deadly seriously.”

The Kremlin responded to Sullivan’s claims, including his promise of “horrific” and “catastrophic” consequences for Russia, by claiming Russian officials were in “sporadic” contact with Washington, D.C. over the nuclear threat.

President Joe Biden also used a speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York City last week to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s threats of nuclear conflict.

“Let us speak plainly: A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase the sovereign state from the map,” Biden said. “Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter, no more important than the clear prohibition against countries taking the territory of their neighbor by force.”

No Extending the “Nuclear Umbrella”

During his comments over the weekend, Sullivan also said that the United States would respond to efforts by Russia to grow its nuclear umbrella, not just the prospect of nuclear strikes.

The term “nuclear umbrella” refers to an area that a nuclear-armed state will defend using nuclear weapons in the event of a strike. The concern in Washington, D.C., is likely that Russia will use the results of the ongoing referendums in the Donbas, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, to expand that nuclear umbrella and claim Ukrainian territories as Russia.

The news effectively creates a stalemate between Russia and NATO. While the Kremlin may consider Ukrainian territory Russian, NATO will still recognize it as Ukrainian. In the event that the West continues to assist Ukraine fight Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, Russia will potentially consider it an escalation and an existential threat to the Russian Federation. If that’s the case, then it could prompt Russia to launch strikes against NATO to protect “Russian” territory in eastern Ukraine.

PT-91 Ukraine

PT-91 tank from Poland heading to Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The question is whether Russia would really do it, and at present, the West is calling Putin’s bluff.

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.

Written By

Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive's Breaking News Editor. He 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.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Steven

    September 27, 2022 at 7:16 pm

    The 50’s the 60’s the 70′ 80’s 90’s up to now: Russia was always the paper tiger…the boogeyman that allowed us to justify our military buildup. They ain’t shit. Never was, never will be. Every piece of military technology they have has been stolen or copied from the west, same with China. Have to believe we fed them flawed info, that’s why so much of their stuff doesn’t work.

  2. Tamerlane

    September 27, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    How many hundred million American lives are you willing to trade for helping maintain Ukraine as an existential threat to Russia’s national defense Steven?

    If Russia uses nukes, they will convey to our non-ally Ukraine that Moscow will accept their unconditional surrender. If the Ukrainians persist, I’d expect another weapon to be used. In time, like the Japanese fanatics, even the strongest will to resist can be broken. The Athenians forgot this at Syracuse to their great regret.

  3. Janette

    September 27, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    Putin only knows doubling down and creating terror,
    he’s the gangster that will cut the fingers of the hostages if he thinks that will make you back down.

  4. bender

    September 27, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    It’s a bad situation,
    but the only thing we can do is to be firm and stay the course.

    I believe Putin might even launch one or more tactical nukes against Ukraine, in a last hope to scare the world. But the world will stand firm, and that will be it.

    He keeps terrorizing only because he saw that europe cowered to his terror up to now.

    In short he is a gangster, but he will not launch the nuclear armageddon.

  5. Jon

    September 27, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    What won’t NATO do? Ukraine has fought Russia to more than a standstill. Any NATO reaction to a Russian nuclear strike will obliterate Russian forces, whether by conventional or nuclear means.

  6. 403Forbidden

    September 28, 2022 at 1:25 am

    Do nothing.

    NATO led by US, the evil carpophorus of our age, forced russia to act. Recall the very similar 1967 six-day war. Nobody has ever blamed jerusalem for starting it.

    Russia MUST use nukes to stop the ukrainian neo-nazi forces armed amd oiled by washington.

    In august 1945, US nuked hiroshima and nagasaki, even though japan was already on its knees and collapsing due to sea and air blockage, constant b-29 incendiary raids & Operation Starvation.

    US very ruthlessly tested its uranium core bomb on civilians in hiroshima, and then the plutonium device on nagasaki.

    Today, ukros are on a rampage, thinking falsely they are nearing victory, thanks to a very generous biden.

    But they are actually heading for total disaster, unaware or unable to realize they are been used by US & NATO as disposable cannon fodder.

    To protect donbass civilians, russia must EMPLOY NUKES against the ukro neo-nazis BECAUSE biden and stoltenberg and scholz ain’t prepared to exchange washington or oslo or berlin for kyiv.

    The fascists only understand hell. Give them what they want.

  7. J

    September 28, 2022 at 2:21 am

    So, you didn’t answer the question posed in the title of the article. Poor writing.

  8. Pitosga

    September 28, 2022 at 5:58 am

    The best solution would be to reach a compromise with Ukraine and give it some nuclear warheads that are in Europe and announce that it has them, but it will only be able to use them to respond to a nuclear attack. At the bottom, balance the scales.
    Russians are like bulling, they only attack when they think the other can’t defend themselves. When there is no clear advantage, swagger disappears.
    If the warheads are in the hands of the Ukrainians, Putin knows that an attack is followed by a counterattack. Otherwise he thinks he might get away with it… (that’s how a poker player thinks)… bases decisions on odds. And most importantly – don’t learn from mistakes. Even though he is wrong countless times, he always believes that that move will be the one that will save the game.

  9. Jack

    September 28, 2022 at 8:13 am

    If Russia hits Ukraine with tactical nuclear weapons NATO should respond with conventional air power. NATO’s conventional air power could destroy the Russians on the ground in Ukraine in three days. They can make it so bad on the Russians that they would have to leave Ukraine immediately.

  10. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 28, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    NATO will admonish loudly. That’s it – there’s nothing to gain for them to do anything else, and everything to lose.

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