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Would Russia’s Military Dare Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?

Tactical Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Weapons Test. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Would Putin Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine? Following Ukraine’s extraordinary successes in northeastern and southeastern Ukraine over the last two weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin faces more pressure than ever before to withdraw his troops. In a 90-minute call with the Russian president, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz once again called on the Russian president to seek a diplomatic solution to the war.

Voices from within Russia have even turned on the Russian president, following reports of Russian soldiers fleeing Ukraine en masse. The Kremlin attempted to spin the withdrawal of troops as a “regrouping” designed to support their original goal of “liberating” the Donbas region, but even pro-Kremlin talking heads and journalists have expressed their doubts over Russia’s progress in the war.

Russian policy expert Viktor Olevich questioned the Kremlin’s recent spin on state television recently.

“You say everything’s going according to plan,” Olevich said, referencing Putin’s strict insistence that the Russian forces are winning. “You really think six months ago we planned on leaving and repelling a counteroffensive?”

Facing criticism at home and embarrassment on the battlefield, Russia’s precarious situation in Ukraine has left national security experts and officials concerned that the Kremlin may do the unthinkable – use tactical nuclear weapons as a last resort.

Concerns Putin May Resort to Tactical Nuclear Weapons

In response to Ukraine’s recent victories, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, former Defense Attaché to Russia, told Insider this week that he is more concerned than ever about the possibility of Russia tapping into its large nuclear arsenal.

“I have been thinking about the pressure Putin must be feeling to do something dramatic – which causes me to think again about nuclear triggers,” he said.

Former NATO Deputy General Rose Gottemoeller also told the BBC’s Today radio program that Kyiv’s successes in Kharkiv could prompt Putin to use weapons of mass destruction.

“Putin and his coterie have been behaving during this crisis,” Gottemoeller said, adding that she now fears that Russia “will strike back now in really unpredictable ways that may even involve weapons of mass destruction.”

Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton and – also a 19FortyFive contributor – also warned on Monday that the threat of a nuclear conflict with Russia is now “a lot closer” than it was before.

During an interview on WABC radio’s Cats at Night show, Bolton said that the victories in Kharkiv don’t mean we are at a point where Russia would use nuclear weapons, but also warned that the war could be reaching that point.

“The potential risk of the use of a nuclear weapon is not so much to change the battlefield but to strengthen Putin’s position at home,” Bolton said.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Would Putin Do It?

We already know that the Kremlin considers the use of nuclear weapons an appropriate response if Russia faces an “existential threat,” through Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has repeatedly indicated – in an effort to quell rumors of a nuclear conflict between Russia and the West – that the war in Ukraine is “separate” to the concept of an existential threat.

With that in mind, it’s possible that Russia would not choose to use nuclear weapons as a last resort in Ukraine. That being said, Peskov’s comments were made several months ago at a time when Russia felt more confident in its ability to “liberate” Donbas and conquer other major parts of Ukraine. The Kremlin even reaffirmed its commitment to eventually conquer Kyiv just this summer.

But right now, the situation looks very different — and with his credibility and legacy on the line, Putin may be looking for new approaches that could allow him to declare some sort of victory in Ukraine, even if he loses.

Russia may ultimately consider the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk to be an “existential threat” if those two separatist regions ask for accession to Russia. As U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan also told Insider this week, if the two breakaway states ask to become a part of Russia, the fighting taking place there “will suddenly be in Russia.” At this point, Russia could warn Ukraine that any further conflict would warrant the use of nuclear weapons.

Whether Putin would follow through with that, however, is another question.

So, would Putin do it? There are certainly ways he could justify it, but he would be taking a huge bet.

Russia Putin

Russian nuclear weapons. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Striking Ukrainian territory with nukes wouldn’t automatically result in a third world war as Ukraine is not NATO territory. It could be the ultimate bluff for Russia, expecting that the West wouldn’t strike back over fears of the conflict escalating any further. At the same time, it could prompt the United States and NATO countries to respond in kind, worsening the conflict and plunging the world into nuclear war.

Nobody can say whether an imminent loss in Ukraine could prompt Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons, but we do know it’s one of his last remaining options.

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.



  1. 403Forbidden

    September 14, 2022 at 9:25 am

    Use of tactical nukes SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE on first day of conflict or feb 24 2022.

    Fascisto forces only understand the language of violence. Whack them on the head with the nuke hammer or thor’s hammer and suddenly they will come to their senses.

    Still, it’s not too late to usd nukes against the ukros who’re doing REAL DIRTY WORK on behalf of biden & stoltenberg.

    Russia can’t leave donbass natives to the clutches of the neo-nazis (nazists) who are great believers of pogroms against minority people.


  2. Leidsegracht

    September 14, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Where the threat becomes existential is when/if fighting moves into Crimea. The potential loss of Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol with its surrounding airbases and support facilities would almost certainly rise to the level of “existential” given Russia’s already poor access to sea lanes

  3. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 14, 2022 at 11:38 am

    403Forbidden: How can you type while simultaneously pleasuring Vlad? Disgusting but impressive, comrade 🙂

  4. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 14, 2022 at 11:42 am

    For the sake of the world, let’s pray that the bloodthirsty tyrant Putin isn’t crazy and desperate enough to use tactical nukes. Should NATO get directly involved in this fight, Russia will be decimated.

  5. Froike

    September 14, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    Putin and his ORCS would have to have a suicidal death wish to use Tactical Nukes. First, Part of Russia would be effected by Nuclear Radiation. Secondly, it would probably push NATO to enter the fray.
    Third, there are a lot of Russians who hate Putin already. Exposing them to Nuclear Retaliation by NATO, would exacerbate this hatred.
    I pray it doesn’t come to this.

  6. Stefan Stackhouse

    September 14, 2022 at 3:54 pm

    Never underestimate the ferocity of a cornered bear (or dog, or rat – pick your favorite). Putin will not lose without first exhausting EVERY weapon at his disposal – count on it.

    That does not mean that Ukraine is doomed, nor that the world is doomed to nuclear holocaust. It does mean that it is prudent to assume and prepare for the worst.

    What should the US do if Putin does let fly a nuke or two? Let’s try to keep both extremes of “do nothing” and “retaliate with our own nukes” off the table, as neither one of those is likely to come to a good end. A more reasonable and promising response might be to drop any remaining restrictions as to what Ukraine can access from our arsenal. All the latest and best aircraft should potentially become available for them, as well as missile systems that could strike deep into Russia itself. Only our nuclear warheads should remain off limits. With a little training, there will be no need for us to impose a “no fly” zone over Ukraine, for the Ukrainians will be able to impose it themselves. This zone can then be extended progressively deep into Russia itself.

    Would Russia respond with further escalation against NATO directly? They might try, which is good reason to be ready for them, and to swat them back hard right at the start.

    We are entering dangerous, perilous times.

  7. Robert stevenson

    September 14, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    I’ve been reading putins book from the start of all this and my last call on what Russians response would be with the counter-attack was almost dead on.I predicted sensing loss putin would dust off his bomber fleet and go on a grand tour of Ukraine bombing all the critical Infrastructure targets to do as much damage as possible.While way short of my total prediction we did so on a smaller scale.What he will do now if the Ukrainian counter attack turns into a total route of the Russian army yes a tactical nuke or chemical weapon could be used but it would cause to many other compound problems.You forget Russia is in possession of the father of all bombs.The largest conventional weapon on earth and when used is almost like a tactical nuke.They could drop that on a Ukrainian formation about to move into a critical area and that would pause everything because no one would know right away if is was nuclear or not.Nato would urge Ukraine to halt and disperse and while that happens it would give Russia at least a day or two to get it’s army under control.I don’t know how many they have but I’m certain they will use it if about to lose Crimea or Ukraine very close to Russian boarder.

  8. Walker

    September 14, 2022 at 9:02 pm

    Under no circumstances can Russia be allowed to use nukes. This leads to the complete destruction of Ukraine and its position as breadbasket to the world, we all have to pick up the slack, and trust me, it will be hard.

    That is not the only reason. Just because Russia attacks Ukraine with Nukes, it doesn’t mean that Nuclear War with NATO is automatic, what it does mean is that any amount of adversarial conflict between NATO instantly threatens mutual annihilation without passing go. Basically war starts even before war starts. Way way too dangerous. If you think in terms of the doomsday clock we are now 100 seconds to midnight. Russia using nukes in Ukraine moves us to about 5 seconds to midnight. Absolutely unacceptable. NATO and the US need to behind the scenes nip this possibility in the bud. The only way to do that is to quietly give Ukraine nuclear protection. That is by making it clear to Russia that nukes in Ukraine is equivalent to nukes against NATO and will be treated as such. Does Ukraine deserve this? Russian war against Ukraine isn’t war against NATO but Russian Nukes against Ukraine can be thought of as Nukes against NATO. That is the safest way of thinking about it for all parties involved including Russia. I think Russia should look at it the same way. If any NATO country preemptively uses nukes against another country it is equivalent to starting nuclear war with Russia. China should think of it the same way. This is basically the same for any country. We now have Nukes in a bottle, open the bottle and that is pretty much it for everyone.

  9. MaxAmoeba

    September 15, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    The real question is “would we use nukes in order to blame the Russians?” After all, we have done that kind of sh+t more times than I can count.

  10. Matthew Jacobs

    September 15, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Putin might give the order but that doesn’t mean someone will push the buttons…Besides if he gave the order to use nukes his time of walking this earth is running out

  11. Travis R

    September 15, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    If the people on this forum are indictive of our world. Bend over put your head between your knees and kiss your *** goodbye.

  12. Jason The Argonaut

    September 15, 2022 at 11:53 pm

    So what? The question the US and NATO need to ask themselves is if Ukraine is worth dying for. Does the US and NATO want to die on that hill? If so, then Biden ,et al need to persuade their constituents why it is worth it. Simple. The US will have “saved” Europe a third time in 104 years.

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