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The Big Question: Will Russia Deploy Nuclear Weapons Any Time Soon?

The main concern for the world is: “Will Russian President Vladimir Putin use nuclear weapons in response to the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions against his country?”

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev declared that such weapons would be used just within “very, very specific situations.” He added, “If Russia or one of these countries really is in danger and souls, i.e., existentially… If NATO troops arrive in Moscow and are threatened, they'll turn [to] using nuclear arms. There is no real threat to Russia in the current circumstances.” According to Kozyrev, Putin will only think about the possibility of a nuclear strike when there is an “existential threat” to his country or regime.

Russia has recently altered its strategy for fighting in Ukraine after failing to capture Kyiv. The Russians spent a month trying to take control of the northern region of Ukraine but failed. Then, having recognized that they have completed their first phase, they are focused on securing their position in the Donbas region. Some experts have referred to this as a “consolation prize” for their sacrifices.

Brent Sadler, a Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow, has a distinct opinion about Putin's intention to deploy nuclear weapons. Sadler believes that if Russia confronts an “overwhelming military defeat” in the Donbas, Putin could very likely decide to pull the trigger. “That could be the situation when a nuclear weapon used for tactical purposes could be considered as a way to demonstrate determination and essentially change any current trends within the Russian military. I'm not sure they'll use city killers because it could certainly usher in World War III, and it is assumed that if you do, he's going to attack NATO,” Sadler said.

Putin continues to make threats of a nuclear strike. He reiterated this when Finland and Sweden stated they would apply for membership in NATO at the forthcoming meeting in Madrid. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is constantly advising that all countries should be worried about Putin making use of nuclear weapons.

Kozyrev attempted to dispel fears of Putin being inclined to attack with nuclear weapons. He insists all threats to strike are “barking” with “no way to bite” from Russian leader Putin. He also stated that the Russian military's commanders will do everything they can to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. He added that as long as Putin is able to maintain his power position, he will not do anything that could undermine it.

Sadler believes that there is a “real bad tendency” in the West to project their thoughts and logic onto Putin. Sadler stated that Putin was capable of performing unanticipated actions that do not align with a Western viewpoint.

Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, went a step further. Kagan said Putin operates within the context of a “bounded rationality.” He claimed that Putin is able to provide “in-universe explanations for what he's doing.” He described what is happening currently as similar to the system that was in place during the Cold War. Officials then were aware of the fact that the Kremlin was on an entirely different path from the West’s. The official said that the West ought to be aware that Putin isn't making choices that would be “rational in the real world.”

Does anyone actually have any idea what Putin can do and what underlying factors he will use to make his decisions? Putin is a highly polarized Russian president who is becoming increasingly isolated, and finding the right answer is becoming harder. The countries that border Russia and decide to join NATO are likely to trigger Putin to react. Let's hope his response doesn't result in him pushing the nuclear button!

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