Has President Vladimir Putin stepped back from the brink of nuclear war?
The Kremlin may be trying to cool its escalatory rhetoric after weeks of innuendo about atomic weapons with a bland statement Wednesday reaffirming its policy on nuclear weapons.
“Russian has consistently adhered to the tenet that nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought,” said a statement published on The Russian Foreign Ministry Website.
In the statement, Moscow added that nuclear doctrine was unambiguous and did not allow for “expansive interpretation,” possibly in an attempt to retract statements questioning the doctrine.
As part of the statement, Russia also called for talks about “security guarantees” it had demanded from NATO before it invaded Ukraine.
The territory that the Russians have not successively held would haven’t given the Russian state a NATO buffer. Now with Sweden and Russian neighbor Norway asking to join the organization the liklihood of Russia sharing a large border with NATO is far more likely. A chip in a negotiated peace deal would probably include language on Norway.
With up to 6,000 warheads at its disposal, Moscow’s nuclear arsenal is second only to the U.S.’ The measured restatement of Russia’s long-held policy stands starkly in contrast to increasingly threatening remarks about using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces have been on the back foot.
Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are four newly seized regions of Ukraine that Russian state television hosts – and even some officials – have openly urged the use of nuclear weapons to defend.
In a practical sense use of nuclear weapons so close to your direct neighbors and logistical access points would be self-defeating. To state the most obvious point the target of your weapon would be an unusable piece of land for at least decades and perhaps longer.
According to John Kirby, spokesman for the Defense Department, the U.S. “continues to monitor this as best we can, and we see no indications that Russia is making preparations for such use.”
Last month, Russian military leaders discussed using nuclear warheads and the conditions under which they would be acceptable, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the time, the U.S. was already feeling heightened tension about Russian use of nuclear weapons because of Putin’s rhetoric, they explained, although this was not the first time such conversations had been observed among Russian military or civilian leaders.
Sources say fears about Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine have diminished recently.
“We’re in a better position now than we were a month ago,” one person said.
The Russian President has given mixed signals regarding the threshold for nuclear use. He said that if Russia had to defend the four eastern Ukrainian provinces, it would use all available means.
Despite not being explicit, he cited the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of World War II as setting a precedent, directly stoking fears that the Kremlin would use them to win the Ukraine war.