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It Would Be ‘World War III’: Would Putin Dare Start a Nuclear War over Ukraine?

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that Russia would use nuclear weapons in the event that Ukraine achieves a breakthrough and regains territory that Russia has conquered and annexed. The state of Russian morale has been the center of debate and attention.

Russian nuclear weapons. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russia's road-mobile ICBMs that carry nuclear weapons.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that Russia would use nuclear weapons in the event that Ukraine achieves a breakthrough and regains territory that Russia has conquered and annexed. The state of Russian morale has been the center of debate and attention.

“Just imagine that the offensive… in tandem with NATO, succeeded and ended up with part of our land being taken away. Then we would have to use nuclear weapons by virtue of the stipulations of the Russian Presidential Decree,” Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said in a Telegram post.

Russia considers the Donbas, southern Ukraine, and Crimea to be its territories.

Vladimir Putin: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Vladimir Putin has warned since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 that he would consider using nuclear weapons. A 2020 executive order signed by Putin states that Russia would use nuclear weapons in the event that the existence of the state were threatened.

He has become a bit like the boy who cried wolf. Nobody believes he will follow through with his threats because he has not done so in the nearly two years of war. The war in Ukraine has become a meat grinder for both sides, and Putin’s army suffers from poor morale.

“This grim outlook helps to explain why Putin is playing the nuclear card. His nuclear threats may ring hollow, but they are too serious to be disregarded completely and he knows it. At the same time, the international community cannot afford to let Putin’s intimidation tactics succeed,” Peter Dickinson, editor of the Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert wrote. “If he finds himself faced with the prospect of decisive military defeat, Putin will almost certainly escalate his nuclear blackmail to new levels of danger. At that point, the international community must unite to prevent Russia from dragging the world into catastrophe.”

Putin Likely Bluffing With Nuke Threat

So far, a stalemate persists along a 600-mile front. Russia’s conscript army suffers from a high rate of desertion and poor morale, but it has managed to largely grind Ukraine’s offensive to a halt. That could change as Ukraine’s military becomes better trained and equipped, but that likely will not happen in the short-term.

Russian troops are well dug-in; however, if the army were to mutiny and decide to go home and abandon what Moscow considers Russian territory it could lead to greater desperation in Putin’s mind. Such a course of events is highly unlikely.

A collapse of Russian forces no matter how unlikely it is at this point would challenge Ukrainian logistics.

“The Moscow government would doubtless issue an ultimatum that Ukraine must not infringe into areas of Donbas under Russian control before 24 February and, above all, that it must not enter the Crimean Peninsula. Moscow would make plain its willingness to use nuclear weapons to protect its territorial integrity,” RUSI Senior Fellow Tim Willasey-Wilsey CMG wrote in a commentary on the group’s site. “Furthermore, a power struggle in Moscow would raise questions about the command authority over the Russian nuclear arsenal. In the words of a former senior UK defence official, ‘Mutiny would by definition destroy the reliability of the chain of command’.”  

Putin likely would only resort to using nuclear weapons in the event his rule is directly threatened by Ukraine.

John Rossomando is a defense and counterterrorism analyst and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.

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Written By

John Rossomando is a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Marc W.

    August 31, 2023 at 3:23 pm

    A single nuclear strike on the Ukraine threaten his rule, I would think. Wouldn’t the global ramifications be impossible to avoid & isolate Russia? Something they wouldn’t be able to afford. Wouldn’t there be immediate & mandatory boycotts & a permanent, new Cold War?

  2. Corvus

    August 31, 2023 at 3:39 pm

    No. Putin is well-aware that any attempt to use nuclear weapons would result in his immediate assassination.

    Neither the West, nor China would allow nukes to be used – it would create a very dangerous precedent that neither side wants.

  3. 404NotFound

    August 31, 2023 at 4:56 pm

    Russia MUST employ nukes in the current proxy war. The bloody proxy game overseen by biden has gone on long enough.

    But first, russia probably needs to get rid of putin.

    Putin is old, haggard, useless and unable to think, unable to lead properly.

    Putin is directly responsible for severe manpower losses in donbass and he therefore fully deserves a bullet in the chest.

    Once russia detonates a few or several tactical nukes, the rats will scurry back to their ratholes in brussels, oslo and berlin and warsaw.

    Biden, austin and sunak and stoltenberg won’t dare do anything.

    All russia needs to do is warn them not to do anything silly, OR ELSE moscow would shoot one SS-27 toward the city of taipei.

    That would force or compel biden and co to confront china and then start a race to the bottom.

    Open the gates of megiddo. CHEERS !!!

  4. George Gordon Byron

    August 31, 2023 at 11:53 pm

    Probably, Putin needs to announce the exercises of the strategic nuclear triad in other water areas, launch training targets in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean (and not shoot at firing ranges in Russia) closer to the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Greece and others “angel-like countries of the West, and (following the example of Comrade Kim) begin to periodically shoot in the direction of the “world” hegemon and his satellites.

  5. EMIP

    September 1, 2023 at 5:40 am

    The most likely scenario where Russia would most likely resort to use of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons is if Crimea were to face an imminent possibility of being retaken by Ukraine. Several reasons:
    1- The Russian nuclear Black Sea fleet is headquartered there.
    2- Crimea has always been historically considered as part of Russia.
    3- Ethnic Russians constitute the majority of the population on the peninsula.
    4- In a referendum held on 16 March 2014, the residents of Crimea overwhelmingly voted to join Russia. The official result from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was a 97 percent vote for integration of the region into the Russian Federation, with an 83 percent voter turnout, and from Sevastopol there was also a 97 percent vote for integration with Russia, with an 89 percent voter turnout. Following the referendum, the State Council of Crimea and Sevastopol City Council declared the independence of the Republic of Crimea from Ukraine and requested to join the Russian Federation. On the same day, Russia recognized the Republic of Crimea as a sovereign state.
    5- Russia formally incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation on 18 March 2014. Crimea has thus been a part of the Russian Federation for nearly a decade.
    6- According to the “Basic Principles of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Domain of Nuclear Deterrence” signed by President Putin in June 2020, it not only states that “The Russian Federation retains the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies…” But that sentence ends with the unusual statement: “… and also in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is put under threat”.

    Based on all of the above as well as other internal Russian political reasons, it’s very likely that Russia would resort to use of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons if Crimea faced an existential threat of being retaken by Ukraine.

    I would also suggest to those interested, that they read online the 17 May 2023 article titled “Why Putin Will Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine” by Retired Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs who served as U.S. defense attaché to Moscow and deputy director for strategy, plans and policy on the Army Staff.

  6. Сheburator

    September 1, 2023 at 9:45 am

    how is the counteroffensive?
    there were so many screams, arms deliveries that devastated the warehouses of many NATO members, as a result, Ukraine not only did not advance, but lost its zone of control. Ukraine lost 60 thousand killed – that is, 12 brigades that were trained in NATO countries. And a Russian offensive is on the horizon, which could lead to Ukraine’s complete loss of control over the left side of the Dnieper.
    As a result, it does not make sense for Russia to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. Unless NATO makes an attempt to intervene on its own in the conflict, but then nuclear missiles will fly not to Kyiv, but to Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin.
    Ukraine has already lost the conventional war. And NATO and Ukraine are now going through according a stages of grief to Kübler theory.
    Аs for strikes with long-range weapons on the territory of Russia – A wounded dog can also bite.

  7. EMIP

    September 1, 2023 at 10:39 am

    The scenario where Russia would most likely resort to use of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons is if Crimea were to face an imminent possibility of being retaken by Ukraine. Several reasons:
    1- The Russian nuclear Black Sea fleet is headquartered there.
    2- Crimea has always been historically considered as part of Russia.
    3- Ethnic Russians constitute the majority of the population on the peninsula.
    4- In a referendum held on 16 March 2014, the residents of Crimea overwhelmingly voted to join Russia. The official result from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was a 97 percent vote for integration of the region into the Russian Federation, with an 83 percent voter turnout, and from Sevastopol there was also a 97 percent vote for integration with Russia, with an 89 percent voter turnout. Following the referendum, the State Council of Crimea and Sevastopol City Council declared the independence of the Republic of Crimea from Ukraine and requested to join the Russian Federation. On the same day, Russia recognized the Republic of Crimea as a sovereign state.
    5- Russia formally incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation on 18 March 2014. Crimea has thus been a part of the Russian Federation for nearly a decade.
    6- According to the “Basic Principles of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Domain of Nuclear Deterrence” signed by President Putin in June 2020, it not only states that “The Russian Federation retains the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies…” But that sentence ends with the unusual statement: “… and also in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is put under threat”.

    Based on all of the above as well as other internal Russian political reasons, it’s very likely that Russia would resort to use of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons if Crimea faced an existential threat of being retaken by Ukraine.

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