Updated: Nov 26, 2022
After the United States, Russia became the world's second nuclear weapon state with the development of RDS-1, which was the first Soviet atomic test in Kazakhstan on 29 August 1949. Since then, there's been no going back for Moscow, from the times of the Cold War
to the present scenario of the Ukrainian war.
Image Graphics by Team Strata
Today, Russia has the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world, with a total of 5977 (1,588 currently deployed) nuclear warheads, which is more than NATO's combined nukes. Russia's gigantic inventory consists of long-range strategic launchers and short-range tactical nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which are used for a limited strike.
In around 10 cities, Russia has major installations for its nuclear weapons namely, Arzamas-16 at Sarov and Chelyabinsk-70 at Snezhinsk; these two closed towns have serial warhead assembly and disassembly facilities and hence remain crucial for Russia.
Others are the Krasnoyarsk-26, and Krasnoyarsk-45 Zelenogorsk, where Plutonium and Uranium enrichment transpires respectively. These cities are managed by the Russian Federation Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom), to design, maintain and dismantle weapons.
Today, the nuclear doctrine of Russia is in total contradiction with what it used to be during the times of the Soviet Union. Since the disintegration of the USSR, Russia has been gradually moving away from its no-first-use policy. The recent statement made by Putin in a televised speech about partial military mobilization and a threat "to use all moves possible" if the west and its allies cross their limits of intervention in the Ukraine war, has indicated a possibility regarding the use of nuclear weapons in the ongoing discord.
Considering the situation of the substantial use of nuclear weapons, this would lead to severe consequences, as the US would not step back in assisting Ukraine; it would rather increase the supply of arms and ammunition. Till now the US military aid mostly consisted of weapons of defence mechanism, but in the case of nuclear weapons use, the western alliance might upgrade it to lethal and offensive weapons including long-range missiles and fighter jets. Along with this, there would be political aloofness, as the neutral countries like India may have to take a call on deciding sides.
The Present Situation of the War
It's been more than 7 months since the war started. But just 3 days after the Russian invasion, Putin ordered his military to put the nuclear deterrence forces on high alert, yet he failed to get a quick victory that he anticipated. Looking at the present state of the war, the logic of deterrence doesn't seem to be working, as the recent statement suggested actually using nukes. This might be because of Putin's growing aggression due to the longingness of the war and frustration at not being able to overpower Ukraine the way he envisioned, but there are other facets as well.
The Russian army's attacks have been contented diligently. While the Russian young men are fleeing the country after the statement of partial mobilization, Ukrainian citizens are striving to protect their sovereignty, and it's not uncertain that Russia has lost more soldiers than Ukraine. It's not just the aggression that forced Putin to give a statement citing the use of nukes, but the loss of manpower and its increasing dependence on nuclear power.
The Russian Military had to withdraw from the strategic towns of Izyum and Kapiansk, losing their grip in the northeastern part of the country, after they were tricked by Ukraine's south offensive, a disinformation campaign, which distracted the Russian military, and they had no other option other than to flee.
The tables are turning now, with the growing international support, the west's Billion-Dollar aid and military supplies, and above all, Ukraine's counter-offensive operations have exasperated Putin's army. The results of a recent referendum in the four Russian-held (now annexed) Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia, which constitute about 15% of their total population, suggest that the majority voted in favour of Russia. However, the results were rigged along with irregular voting practices, where people were forced to vote by officials against their choice. Countries like Canada, Brazil, Israel, Serbia, the US, and the UK, have refused to acknowledge the results of the referendum.
When the manipulations did not work, Putin announced straight annexation of the four above-mentioned Ukrainian regions. And said it would still use "all means possible" to protect the citizens of those regions 'forever'. The move was yet again denounced by UNGA and other countries, while Ukrainian President Zelensky asked the US to make its NATO membership 'de jure'.
Pressure on Putin
Putin's threat to use nuclear weapons was demeaned by NATO’s Secretary General, Jen Stoltenberg, who said, "The Russian army was not supplied well, the command in the army is weak," whereas the other officials suggested Putin was "struggling” in his speech and the war is not going according to his plan. The constant criticism from the world for Russia's actions and the constant support from the western allies for Ukraine have created enough pressure on Putin to take such spontaneous yet disastrous decisions.
Putin mentioned in his "anti-America" speech at the Kremlin conference that this annexation would kill millions of people and slammed America for its neo-colonialist attitude and other accusations. These statements from Putin do not bear any evidence, but this doesn't come in the way when you make a statement in such a desperate state. The country which used to be a part of the USSR (from 1922 to 1991) is now giving neck-neck competition, which hurts Russia's international image and remains an irritant for the Russian President.
What happens Next?
Since the onset of the war, Putin has been claiming the use of nukes, but nothing of that sort has happened hitherto. Some believe that he is not yet prepared to take the actual use of nuclear weapons off the table, but the new land snatch has made the world curious about how Moscow will react to an attack on the captured land. Nobody has been able to predict its moves, as experts express uncertainty about future maneuvers. Except for one thing, i.e., sanctions and US Aid to Ukraine.
The G-7 nations have slammed catastrophic sanctions, not only on Moscow but on its allies and any entity that supports Russia's military-industrial complex. Also, the G-7, along with the European Union, have announced to never recognize the land grab. The EU has also cut down oil and gas imports from Russia, which makes it look for new markets. According to a report in The New York Times, the Pentagon is planning to train and equip Ukrainian troops and create a new command based in Germany.
The American government has promised a new $625 million package for Ukraine's military assistance. Till now the Biden administration has supported Kyiv with security assistance of more than $16.8 billion. Moreover, it will hasten Ukraine's NATO membership in a round of talks in Brussels on 12-13 October 2022.
The world always propagates territorial integrity and sovereignty, until war becomes a game of ego rather than just territorial gains. The consequences of this war would be felt in the long term, and they would be devastating undeniably for both countries. It solely depends on the next step of the leaders and their allies, whether they choose nukes or negotiations.
BY YUKTA BISSA