Tactical nukes: Why the world is so worried about Russia’s nuclear weapons

The war in Ukraine has raised concerns about the use of nuclear weapons. Russia is armed with nuclear weapons to the teeth, as are some of Kyiv’s Western supporters.

If the conflict extends beyond Ukraine, it could pit the nuclear powers against each other. Russian President Vladimir Putin explicitly referred to such a scenario in a national address Wednesday, calling for a partial military mobilization to defeats in the war.

“In the face of the threat to the territorial integrity of our country, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all means at our disposal,” Putin said. .

For months, the United States sent separate communications to Moscow warning the Russian leadership of the dire consequences that would follow the use of nuclear weapons, according to US officials. On Friday, the White House said it saw no reason for the United States to adjust its nuclear posture “at this time.”

However, the strategic landscape has been complicated by the roughly 1,500 “tactical” warheads that Russia has stockpiled since the end of the Cold War. These smaller nuclear weapons, far less destructive than those dropped by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, were designed for use in combat. school.

The weapon’s smaller size, some experts fear, could break the nuclear taboo. They warn against underestimating what remains a weapon of mass destruction, with the potential to cause widespread casualties solely from radiation.

Sarah Bidgood, director of the Eurasian program at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., said it is difficult to estimate how risky Russia is to use tactical nuclear weapons. in Ukraine, but it is clear that Russia has relied on its nuclear weapons, including tactical weapons, to give it flexibility in managing the risk of escalation.

“Russia can bring nuclear weapons into a conflict when it feels there are no longer conventional options and is facing an existential threat,” she said. However, she added, “we don’t have a good sense of what all of Putin’s red lines here are, or what he sees as an existential threat.”

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