The Russians Are Talking Up Nukes Again
It's that time of year…
Summer is here, the flowers are in bloom, the crops are growing, and the Russians are talking about nuclear war again.
Thanks to Hannah Notte for a Twitter thread pointing out many Russian articles and speeches from Russia’s strategic community discussing the use of nuclear weapons to end the war in Ukraine.
The gist: Sergei A. Karaganov—who heads Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defence Policy—caused a stir earlier this month with a column in Russia in Global Affairs called “A Difficult but Necessary Decision,” in which he advocated for Russia using nuclear weapons against Eastern Europe in order to bring a quick end to the war in Ukraine:
And this brings me to the most difficult part of this article. We can keep fighting for another year, or two, or three, sacrificing thousands and thousands of our best men and grinding down tens and hundreds of thousands of people who live in the territories that is now called Ukraine and who have fallen into the tragic historical trap. But this military operation cannot end with a decisive victory without forcing the West to retreat strategically, or even surrender, and compelling it to give up attempts to reverse history and preserve global dominance, and to focus on itself and its current multilevel crisis. Roughly speaking, it must “buzz off” so that Russia and the world could move forward unhindered.
Karaganov isn’t some random nut. He’s a close advisor to Putin and is believed to have been a chief influencer behind the decision to invade Ukraine.
Therefore, it is necessary to arouse the instinct of self-preservation that the West has lost and convince it that its attempts to wear Russia out by arming Ukrainians are counterproductive for the West itself. We will have to make nuclear deterrence a convincing argument again by lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons set unacceptably high, and by rapidly but prudently moving up the deterrence-escalation ladder. The first steps have already been made by the relevant statements of Russian President and other leaders: the announced deployment of nuclear weapons and their carriers in Belarus, and the increased combat readiness of strategic deterrence forces. But there are many steps on this ladder. I have counted about two dozen. Thing may also get to the point when we will have to urge our compatriots and all people of goodwill to leave their places of residence near facilities that may become targets for strikes in countries that provide direct support to the puppet regime in Kiev. The enemy must know that we are ready to deliver a preemptive strike in retaliation for all of its current and past acts of aggression in order to prevent a slide into global thermonuclear war.
Karaganov argues that the West has lost its fear of nuclear war, and the only way to remind it is to use a nuclear weapon.
Dmitry Trenin, a professor at the Faculty of World Economy and World Policy of the Higher School of Economics, publicly responded to Karaganov in Russia in Global Affairs. He not only seems to back up Karaganov, but also seems to think that Russia can get away with using nukes against NATO allies:
As for Russian nuclear strikes against NATO countries: hypothetically reasoning, Washington most likely will not respond to these attacks with its own nuclear strike against Russia – out of fear of a Russian retaliation strike against the United States. The absence of such a reaction will dispel the mythology that has been created around Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for decades and will lead to the deepest NATO crisis – possibly even to the collapse of the organization. It cannot be ruled out that the Atlantic elites of the NATO and EU countries will panic and be swept away by national forces, which they will see firsthand, that the security of their countries does not actually depend on the nonexistent « nuclear umbrella » USA, but on building equilibrium relations with Russia. It may turn out that America will leave Russia alone.
Let us dwell before this point of no return and summarize our analysis. « The nuclear bullet » must be necessarily and demonstratively inserted into the « slave revolvera », which the US leadership is playing recklessly today. To paraphrase one late American statesman, we can say: why do we need nuclear weapons if we refuse to use them in the face of an existential threat.
Next, Ivan N. Timofeev—Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council—also responded to Karaganov, adding some helpful context to understand Karaganov’s points better:
In his article, Sergei Karaganov portrays the Western elites as a community of degraded politicians who have lost political instincts over decades of calm and peaceful life and who have got bogged down in moralizing, essentially turning into a kind of subhuman advocating LGBT and destroying traditional values in the name of totalitarian control over masses who have lost their roots and bonds. On the one hand, these elites want to destroy Russia as a stronghold of traditional values. On the other hand, they will not have enough determination to respond to Russia’s nuclear strike. After all, such a response will put an end to their comfortable life and totalitarian plans.
However, Timofeev is less prone to believe that a nuclear strike will cause the West to give up on Ukraine:
There is no obvious reason to believe that the Western elites will lose nerve when it comes to responding to a nuclear strike, let alone surrender and “get lost,” leaving Russia alone. Rather the opposite. They will only get more arguments in support of their position, consolidate and mobilize themselves.
And I couldn’t help but laugh at this paragraph:
It should also be remembered that standing behind Western public politicians, some of whom are in fact real freaks, are the professional military and bureaucratic machines. Joe Biden may stumble on the stairs or miss the door. But his age and eccentricities are more than compensated by an army of disciplined and qualified officials with a low level of corruption on top of it all. Formally, the final decision will be made by the president. In reality, it will be prepared, and pushed through where necessary, by officials. This is a dangerous opponent. The same can be said about the U.S. military, intelligence, and other security services.
What should Russia do in such a situation? Respond by firing tactical missiles at the rest of Europe? But in this case, Americans will use their tactical nuclear weapons against Russian military facilities and cities. What’s next? Use strategic weapons? But the one who uses them first will die second as a result of a retaliatory strike. This will be a disaster with tens of millions of casualties in Russia, Europe, and America. Other parts of the world will have a hard time, too, including the Global Majority, due to the disruption of global economic processes, possible climate changes, radiation, and other factors.
Nuclear weapons retain their significance as a deterrent. Should there be direct military aggression against Russia or a threat to the very existence of the state, their use may become inevitable in full compliance with the effective Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence. Otherwise, other foreign policy tools should be used.
Alexey Arbatov, a political scientist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was dismissive of Karaganov in an interview for New Newspaper:
This is not the first time Sergey Alexandrovich has made similar statements « strong ». But this time he already directly wrote what he had been talking about for a long time, especially after the start of the special operation in Ukraine, in half-naked. To a large extent, the article is designed for the effect that you described as « hair stood on end ». He again found himself in the center of the media discussion, which, probably, was the calculation and was done.
As for the essence, it is likely that this is not the personal opinion of Professor Karaganov exclusively. The article may express the point of view of a certain part of the political elite. We have repeatedly seen performances with similar thoughts on state television during various political shows and interviews. They were expressed by some senior statesmen, members of parliament, people who call themselves « military experts » ( often these are false experts ).
Professionally, the article is below criticism. What is worth, for example, the pseudo-human proposal to warn compatriots and « goodwill people » who are near the places of alleged nuclear strikes so that they can evacuate?
In the same spirit, numerous statements by Putin, Lavrov and Shoigu with Gerasimov have been withstood. These official statements are directly opposed to what Professor Sergey Karaganov defends, including a presidential statement at the Peter Forum about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Are there any underwater currents in power on this issue — you can only guess. In any case, everyone has the right to his point of view, even if it differs from the official one. If only she was fundamentally justified and logically reasoned. And this is the main problem of the article under discussion.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this. Russian media has been beating the nuclear drum for over a year, and it’s led to nothing. However, it’s important to know that this is a topic of hot debate inside influential Russian circles.
In the meantime, check out our nuclear prep articles: