Is Russia planning a nuclear attack? – DW – 05/07/2024

On May 6, one day before the new inauguration of Russian President Vladimir , the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation announced that it was preparing maneuvers with tactical nuclear weapons near the Ukrainian border, “in the near future.” These exercises will take place for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.

The maneuvers will be carried out by missile units of the “Southern Military District” (anti-aircraft defense), with the participation of air and naval forces, with the aim of “increasing the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces.”

In addition to the Russian regions, the Russian air defense zone includes Crimea, annexed in 2014, and the four southeastern Ukrainian regions, partially occupied by Russia in 2022.

Moscow’s nuclear threats and criticism of the West

Although Vladimir Putin has not yet openly threatened a nuclear attack, he has warned the West of the possibility of a nuclear war in the event of a direct confrontation with Russia.

Former Russian president and vice-president of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmitri Medvedev, however, has openly threatened the use of nuclear weapons on several occasions.

On May 6, Medvedev again made a similar statement, linking the decision to conduct tactical nuclear weapons exercises to the debate in the West over whether it was permissible for Western states to send ground troops to Ukraine.

Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, also linked the nuclear exercises with statements by Western politicians about a possible deployment of troops in Ukraine, mentioning in particular French President Emmanuel Macron. Peskov spoke of a “new round of escalation of tensions.”

What are tactical nuclear weapons?

Tactical nuclear weapons are considered to be nuclear warheads for land-based missile systems with a range of up to 500 kilometers and missile systems launched from the sea or air with a range of up to 600 kilometers.

However, there are no clear limits to the classification. For this reason, some sources classify the new Russian Kalibr cruise missiles and the Kinschal hypersonic missile, with a range of up to several thousand kilometers, as tactical nuclear weapons.

Using them in Ukraine “doesn’t make sense”

Experts interviewed by DW agree that the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine is unlikely and also useless. “From a military point of view, Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine does not make sense under any circumstances,” says Pavel Podvig, senior researcher at the UN Disarmament Research Institute. Nothing has changed in this regard.

Russia will not be able to practice attacks during its maneuvers, but only the procedure for their use, according to the expert. “This is because non-strategic warheads are typically stored separately from the missiles and aircraft that can fire them,” Podvig says.

“There have never been plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” says Nikolai Sokov, a researcher at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

“A warning to the West”

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, a “nuclear escalation” has been feared in the West. According to Western politicians and experts, this is precisely the reason why weapons have been supplied to Ukraine in a slow and limited manner.

According to Mathieu Boulègue, of the American Wilson Centre, the Russian nuclear maneuver is part of “constant intimidation by the Kremlin”, with the aim of undermining the West’s determination to support Ukraine.

For Boulègue, Putin also wants to present himself as a “strong leader” with the maneuvers, especially on the eve of the “Victory Day over Nazi Germany”, which is celebrated in Russia on May 9.

Experts assume that Russia’s nuclear exercises are “a sign and a warning to the West.” Finally, Pavel Podvig emphasizes that “there is nothing good in this political signal, but we must try to take it as soberly as possible.”


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