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Why Russia Might Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine Afterall

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

The world could be closer to a nuclear confrontation than it was even during the Cold War. According to a report from The New York Times on Wednesday, senior Russian military leaders had recently discussed the possibility of when and how Moscow could employ a tactical nuclear weapon to reverse its setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Times reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been a party to the conversations, which took place mid-October, and it further serves to heighten concerns that the Kremlin increasingly sees the use of nuclear weapons to be an option if it is unable to improve the situation with conventional weapons.

Putin had warned in late September that he would consider using “all means at our disposal” to defend Russian territory, and experts have suggested that could include tactical nuclear weapons.

The Kremlin currently maintains some 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons with a broad range of yields, from very low to over 100 kilotons.

Those weapons can be delivered by air, ship, and ground-based systems.

Won’t Use Nukes – So Russia Says

When pressed on the matter on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed it as “purposeful pumping” of nuclear weapons rhetoric.

“We have not the slightest intention to take part in this pumping, and consider it very, very irresponsible,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

However, the concern is that the Kremlin often says one thing, only to do another. For weeks, as its forces massed on the Ukrainian border, Moscow said the troops were taking part in drills – and at one point even said that the personnel and equipment had returned to their bases. Likewise, Russia claimed it launched its “special military operation” to “de-nazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine.

“The fact that senior Russian military leaders were even having the discussions alarmed the Biden administration because it showed how frustrated Russian generals were about their failures on the ground, and suggests that Mr. Putin’s veiled threats to use nuclear weapons might not just be words,” the Times reported.

U.S. officials have been cautious in responding to the claims.

In a statement shared with CBS News, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he couldn’t provide “any comment on the particulars of this reporting,” but said the U.S. had been “clear from the outset that Russia’s comments about the potential use of nuclear weapons are deeply concerning, and we take them seriously.”

Dirty Bomb Threats

Even as Putin denied in a speech last week that Russia was actually preparing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, he has continued to make an unsubstantiated claim that Kyiv could employ a “dirty bomb” on its own territory. Ukraine has vociferously denied the accusation and many experts have warned that a dirty bomb could be employed as part of a false flag operation carried out by Russia as a pretext to escalate the war.

Though not an actual nuclear weapon, a “dirty bomb” is a term used to describe a radiological dispersal device – essentially conventional explosives wrapped around a large quantity of dangerous radioactive material. When the bomb explodes, it does not create a nuclear detonation but is still able to spread radioactive material, which can poison anyone nearby and render an area highly dangerous, even impassable.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons

US Military B-61 nuclear weapon. Image Credit: US DOD.

It is actually not a complicated item to create and can be made from nuclear reactor waste, leftover pieces of a nuclear weapon, or even radiological material from a hospital.

Some experts have warned that Russia could explode such a weapon in the occupied territories and then blame Kyiv. Moscow could then demand Ukraine’s surrender or warn that it faces nuclear retaliation, while it could also be a scare tactic meant to break western support via the threat of nuclear escalation/annihilation.

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.


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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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Rick

    November 2, 2022 at 1:31 pm

    Pootie does have the balls to stand a retaliatory attack. He talks like he’s 10 feet tall, but reality is he’s a diminutive little coward.

  2. Froike

    November 2, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Putah is already in The Dog House. If He uses Nukes of any kind, including Dirty Bombs, NATO will retaliate. They may not use Nukes to retaliate, but they might very well go Boots on The Ground (which means
    all Conventional Weapons Free!)
    Aside from that, The Nuclear Radiation would absolutely effect Russia too.

  3. Walker

    November 3, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    I really hope Putin doesn’t use nukes. It is scary that the Russian military was discussing it, but perhaps they were roleplaying it to come to the conclusion they would refuse orders if it came to that. Perhaps they came to conclusions that nukes are only to be used in the case that “Ukraine” uses them first. In which case, we should be pretty safe.

    If Russia does for any reason use them, the risk of an all out nuclear war goes up exponentially. It’s not like we can say, oh, they used nukes, I guess we have to surrender and give Russia everything they ask for. Nope! We have to do the opposite. We have to make them regret using them. I don’t see us putting boots on the ground, but I do believe that things such as no fly zone as well as complete Russian isolation such as forcing Russian allies to break off or face severe consequences of complete embargoes. That means China has to get off the fence and either join Russia or go against it. And what does this level of isolation mean for Russia? It would be an existential threat. Basically, if Russia uses nukes, it means all out Nuclear war, Or Russian complete capitulation.

    Anyway you look at it, Russia needs to know that it loses completely if it uses nukes. Will it take all of us down with it? I don’t know, But I hope they are smart enough to realize that. It’s hard to say with all the Generals either killed or fired and likely replaced with idiots who kowtow completely to Putin.

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