It was last Tuesday, when Russian President Putin stated in his speech the following: “I want to remind those who make such statements against Russia that our country has means of destruction, in some cases even more advanced than those of other countries of NATO. If our territorial integrity is threatened, of course we will protect Russia and our people with all the means at our disposal.”
Vladimir Putin’s announcements this week froze the world. This was followed by similar statements by the former Russian president and vice-president of the Security Council of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin accuses the West of nuclear blackmail and leaves no doubt about his resolve. “It’s not a bluff,” he said. The use of nuclear weapons is not a new threat. Only this time it is accompanied by the mobilization of some 300,000 partially conscripted Russian army reservists.
What experts and former top officials say
“Since the beginning of the war we have repeatedly heard Putin hint at such threats,” Wolfgang Richter, a retired German colonel and current security expert at the Berlin Institute for Science and Policy, told DW. For her part, Rose Gottemeler, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO, in an interview with the BBC, did not rule out that Russia could use nuclear weapons. “I fear that the Russians may retaliate in an unpredictable manner,” he said, “even with the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
Wolfgang Richter, however, does not see the situation as dramatic, analyzing the Russian doctrine of resorting to the use of nuclear weapons, which provides that: “first, Russia should have itself been attacked with nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Second, the existence and survival of the Russian state should be at stake.” According to Richter, these are two arguments that have no basis in international law.
Russia, the largest nuclear power
Retaining over 6,300 nuclear warheads, Russia has the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. Of the NATO partners, only the US has 5,800 nuclear warheads, France 300 and Great Britain 215. The fact is, however, that there are no more precise figures for numbers, because the nuclear programs of each country remain secret.
For its part, Germany is participating in the prevention of nuclear holocaust with Tornado fighter jets of the German Air Force, which are stationed in Büchel, Rhineland-Palatinate. In an emergency, German Luftwaffe pilots could drop American nuclear warheads from these planes, something they practice once a year. In addition to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy also participate in the NATO nuclear deterrence program. The decision to use the US nuclear bombs located in these countries would be made by the US president.
What are the chances of a nuclear strike?
Since 2014 and the annexation of Crimea to Russia, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly invoked his country’s nuclear arsenal. Relatively more likely would be the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons, with a relatively low explosive range – about one-fiftieth of the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. However, B. Richter doubts whether such a thing can really happen.
“Russia would become the pariah of the world, it would be left all alone. Putin would lose all his allies, including China,” he notes, assessing the scenario of a nuclear war as unlikely. A few days ago, however, US President Joe Biden sent a clear message to Vladimir Putin via the CBS network: “Don’t do it! Such a move would change the face of warfare like nothing else since World War II.”
Volker Witting, Frank Hoffmann
Editor: Dimitra Kyranoudis
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