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The Russian Military Couldn’t Operate On a ‘Nuclear’ Battlefield

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Putin keeps making nuclear threat after nuclear threat as his war in Ukraine looks like an epic failure. However, it seems as if he would have a hard time using those nukes in battlefield conditions, explained a prominent think tank. 

The Russian military couldn’t operate on a nuclear battlefield in its current state, despite escalating rhetoric about nuclear weapons, a think tank said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, referenced Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s recent comments that Russia should use low-yield nuclear weapons following its loss of the occupied city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine.

“In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also recently threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and said he was not bluffing, despite multiple experts saying the threat likely remains minimal.

According to the ISW, the Russian military in its current state would likely be unable to operate on a nuclear battlefield, despite it having the necessary equipment and historically trained units.

Its troops, who are currently a “chaotic agglomeration” of tired soldiers, hastily mobilized reservists, and mercenaries, “could not function in a nuclear environment,” the think tank said.

The use of Russian tactical nuclear weapons would render areas impassable and therefore prevent Russian advances, according to the think tank.

The think tank noted that discussions of Russia’s nuclear capabilities are common on Russian state TV and among ultra-hawkish military bloggers and that Kadyrov’s recent comments align with that.

Other Putin allies, including former president Dmitry Medvedev, have also repeated Russia’s nuclear threats.

Multiple experts and analysts have said it is unlikely that Russia will use nuclear weapons, with one expert recently telling Insider that the threats are likely aimed at causing confusion and uncertainty.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also criticized Putin’s “nuclear saber-rattling” and said he doesn’t currently see anything indicating that nuclear weapons will be used.

Alia Shoaib is a junior news reporter on the weekend team at Insider (where this first appeared), based in London. She was previously an editorial intern at The Economist’s 1843 magazine and a social media fellow at The Economist. Prior to that she was a part-time researcher for The Times foreign desk.

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Alia Shoaib is a junior news reporter on the weekend team, based in London.