Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Putin Could Start a Nuclear War in Ukraine He Can’t Win

Russian Tu-160 bomber. Image Credit - Creative Commons.
Russian Tu-160 bomber. Image Credit - Creative Commons.

Would Russia Actually Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?: Concerns remain that Russia may consider using a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine as the Kremlin continues to be pushed back on the battlefield.

Just this weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War were proof that “you don’t need to attack major cities in order to end a war.”

Putin isn’t alone in considering such a “nuclear option,” and other senior officials in the Kremlin had also discussed whether nuclear weapons could be employed to reverse Russia’s fortunes in Ukraine. The threats have been taken so seriously that even Moscow’s de facto allies have expressed concern.

After meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday condemned Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons. Scholz and Zi further expressed their desire to see the conflict come to an end. This is a notable stance from Beijing, which had remained relatively silent on the matter since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.

Severe Consequences

It was also on Friday that the Group of Seven (G7) Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, along with the High Representative of the European Union (EU), warned that Russia would face “severe consequences” if it uses any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in its war with Ukraine.

“Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric is unacceptable. Any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences. We also reject Russia’s false claims that Ukraine is preparing a radiological ‘dirty bomb’. The inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that these allegations are baseless, and we commend Ukraine for its transparency,” the G7 said in a statement.

It further condemned Russia’s continued seizure and militarization of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.

Russian Capabilities – Mighty Bear or Paper Tiger?

Though Russia has continued to threaten to use nuclear weapons, the question remains whether it could follow through even if pushed. There is the possibility it may not be able to launch a significant strike.

Russia’s nuclear triad consists of air, land, and sea delivery systems, all of which are in the process of modernization. However, as has been seen from some of the nation’s efforts the level of modernization is uncertain. The Kremlin recently conducted drills of all three legs of the triad, including submarine, land-based missile launchers, and long-range bombers, it isn’t clear Russia could actually fight a true “nuclear war,” if the conflict were to escalate.

It isn’t just the aging fleet of submarines, bombers, and land-based mobile launchers that are in question.

“There is a certain level of maintenance that needs to be conducted to keep the warheads operational,” explained Captain Robert A. Sanders, JAG Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired), and distinguished lecturer of national security at the University of New Haven, in an interview with 19FortyFive

“Russia has a small economy and it doesn’t have the funds to properly maintain its nuclear arsenal. Reagan outspent the Soviet Union and won the Cold War with money, and Russia continues to struggle to pay for its military today,” Sanders told 19FortyFive. “Part of the Russian nuclear threat – not all but part – may be a paper tiger.”

Targets in Ukraine?

The other part of the equation is what targets could Putin consider viable in Ukraine. The Pentagon currently estimates that Russia has a stockpile of as many as 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed to be used on battlefields.

Even with their smaller nuclear yield, an issue is that the winds would tend to blow any fallout into Russian territory.

At best Russia could face a Pyrrhic victory – if it could even achieve such a victory from the use of such weapons. It is more likely the conflict would escalate. But even if it didn’t, it is hard to imagine how Russia could employ such a weapon successfully.

“We have to remember there isn’t a military target or object just sitting out in a field, where no other non-military objects could be affected,” warned Sanders. “That makes it much more complicated to use nuclear weapons. Even our best tactical nuclear weapons, which can be used with point accuracy, will always result in collateral damage. Whole cities and whole areas around the target could be unusable for decades or longer.”

Ukraine is now the breadbasket of Europe, and much of Africa and the Middle East depends on its grain. Ukraine has close to 104 million acres of agricultural land, of which 79 million are currently cultivated, an area larger than Italy, making it one of the most highly cultivated countries in the world.

Nuclear fallout could threaten that land, and with it, the region’s food supply. A nuclear strike could also seriously threaten the water in the Black Sea.

“We can’t even estimate the damage, because there are so many different types of weapons,” Sanders continued.

Putin may have cited Hiroshima and Nagasaki as examples of where nuclear weapons were used, but hundreds of thousands of residents in those cities suffered for decades afterward.

“It is also worth noting that those weapons were used so many years ago, and those pale in comparison to what Russia has today,” said Sanders.

In other words, Russia likely has enough nukes that could escalate a war it couldn’t possibly hope to win. The question is how much the rest of the world might suffer as well.

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Want More 19FortyFive articles, news, and analysis on the top military, defense, national security, as well as politics and economics news? Make sure to follow us on Google News, Flipboard, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Also, please don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter here. You can also find our code of publishing ethics and standards here. And you can of course email us with questions and contact us anytime: [email protected]

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.