What’s Vladimir Putin thinking? Tough to know for nuclear analysts

PARIS: Will be the President Vladimir Putin nuclear trigger?
For Kremlin watchers trying to figure out whether the Russian leader’s nuclear threats were a hoax, there is no more pressing or difficult question.
For now, cautious analysts say the risk of Putin using the world’s largest nuclear arsenal still appears to be low. The CIA says it has seen no indication of an impending Russian nuclear attack.
However, his vow to use “all means at our disposal” to defend Russia as he waged war in Ukraine is being taken very seriously. And his statement on Friday that the United States had “set a precedent” by dropping the atomic bomb during World War II further raised the nuclear stakes.
The The White House warned of “catastrophic consequences for Russia” if Putin denuclearizes.
But whether that is in Putin’s hands or not is anyone’s guess. Anxious Kremlin watchers admit they can’t be sure what he’s thinking or even if he’s rational and understanding.
The former KGB agent has demonstrated a thirst for adventure and courage. Even for Western intelligence agencies with spy satellites, it’s hard to tell if Putin is lying or really intending to break the nuclear taboo.
“We do not see any actual evidence today in the US intelligence community that he is getting any closer to actual use, that there is an imminent threat of the use of weapons. Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” CIA Director William Burns told CBS News.
“What we had to do was take it very seriously, watching for signs of real preparation,” Burns said.
Kremlin watchers are scratching their heads in part because they fail to see how nuclear force could help reverse Russian military losses in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military does not use large tanks to regain ground, and fighting sometimes takes place in small places like villages. So what can Russia’s nuclear forces aim for with victory?
“Nuclear weapons are not magic wands,” said Andrey Baklitskiy, a senior researcher at the UN’s Disarmament Research Institute who specializes in nuclear risk research. “They’re not something you just hire and they solve all your problems.”
Analysts hope the taboo surrounding nuclear weapons is a disheartening one. The sheer scale of human suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the United States destroyed Japanese cities with atomic bombs on August 6 and August 9, 1945, is a strong argument against reusing such weapons. The attacks killed 210,000 people.
Since then no country has used nuclear weapons. Analysts predict that even Putin might find it difficult to become the first world leader since US President Harry Truman denuclearized.
“Beyond that threshold is still a taboo in Russia,” said Dara Massicota senior policy researcher at RAND Corp. and a former analyst of Russian military capabilities at the US Department of Defense.
“One of the biggest decisions in Earth’s history,” Baklitskiy said.
The backlash could turn Putin into a global celebrity.
“Breaking the nuclear taboo would impose, at a minimum, total isolation,” said Sidharth Kaushal, a researcher with the Royal Services Institute in London who specializes in defense and security. economic and diplomatic relations with Russia.
The long-range nuclear weapons that Russia could use in direct conflict with the United States are combat ready. But the stockpile of shorter-range warheads – so-called tactical weapons that Putin might want to use in Ukraine – does not, analysts say.
“All of those weapons are in storage,” said Pavel Podvig, another senior researcher specializing in nuclear weapons at the United Nations disarmament research agency in Geneva.
“You need to get them out of the bunker, load them up in trucks, and then combine them with rockets or other delivery systems,” he said.
Russia has not yet announced the full arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons and their capabilities. Putin can order a smaller one to be secretly ready and prepared for unexpected use.
But openly removing weapons from the archives is also a tactic Putin can use to apply pressure without using them. He expected American satellites to detect this activity and perhaps hoped that his nuclear teething might turn Western powers back to Ukraine.
“That’s what the Russians will bet, that each escalation will provide the other side with a threat but (also) a difficulty to negotiate with Russia,” Kaushal said.
He added: “There’s a kind of grammar to nuclear signaling and combustion, and the logic to it isn’t just, you know, a crazy person one day deciding to go through this sort of thing. this.”
Analysts also expect other escalations first, including increased Russian attacks in Ukraine using non-nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think there will be a flash of light beyond the blue,” said Nikolai Sokovwho participated in arms control negotiations while working for the Russian Foreign Ministry and currently works for the Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in Vienna.
Analysts also struggle to identify battlefield targets worthy of Putin’s hefty price tag. If a nuclear strike doesn’t stop Ukraine’s advances, will he strike again?
Podvig noted that the war did not have a “massive concentration of troops” to target.
Attacking cities, in the hope of forcing Ukraine to surrender, would be a terrible alternative.
“The decision to kill tens and hundreds of thousands of people in cold blood was a difficult decision,” he said.
Putin can hope that the threats alone will slow Western arms supplies to Ukraine and give time to train the 300,000 more troops he is mobilizing, sparking protests and an exodus. population of men of service age.
But if Ukraine continues to push back against the invasion and Putin finds himself unable to hold on to what he has already done, analysts fear growing danger as he decides that his denuclearization options about to end.
RAND’s Massicot said: “Putin is really removing a lot of the bridges behind him right now, with mobilization, with the merger of new territories.
“It shows that he’s going all out to win his condition,” she added. “I’m very worried about where that will take us in the end – including, in the end, some kind of nuclear decision.”


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