NUCLEAR WAR. Russia has said it is ready to use all its forms, even nuclear ones, to protect itself from the West. This threat is a new attempt at deterrence but is “taken seriously” by the UN. Is a nuclear attack possible?
[Mis à jour le 22 septembre 2022 à 11h28] “It’s not a bluff”. Vladimir Putin openly spoke of a possible nuclear attack and peppered his speech with signs showing his determination to use “all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people”. This September 22, the day after the speech, the foundations of this threat still raise questions: should it be taken seriously or is it simply a new attempt at nuclear deterrence? For the West it is above all a matter of blackmail” to use the words of Emmanuel Macron during an interview granted to BFM TV. An expression previously used by the master of the Kremlin to accuse the western bloc of having first brandished the nuclear threat: “Those who blackmail with nuclear weapons must know that this blackmail can turn against them.” However, history proves Moscow wrong, which for the time being is the only one to have repeatedly alluded to atomic weapons.
“The risk [d’une attaque nucléaire, ndlr] is still there” according to the French president because Russia is a nuclear power and one of the most equipped and putting forward this force “is a way of putting pressure in a difficult moment of this war”. The United States also adopts the tone of vigilance and condemn the “dangerous nuclear rhetoric” and “irresponsible” of Russia. Still, for many this umpteenth threat looks like a last resort solution for Vladimir Putin who is in a difficult position: the Russian troops accuse the counter-offensives in Ukraine and Russia is increasingly isolated from the political scene, as evidenced by the speeches of its rare allies, including China, at the UN summit on September 21. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has elsewhere said only a few hours after the speech his Russian counterpart “does not believe” in the realization of the threat. Until now the threats of nuclear war, numerous since the invasion of Ukraine, are not never went beyond words and once again the Russian military movements do not seem to reflect suspicious operations but the West keeps a worried eye on Moscow.
Can Russia start a nuclear war?
Threats of nuclear war have been a Russian refrain since the beginning of 2022. They go hand in hand with the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces launched on February 24 and have since been regularly uttered by the leaders of the Kremlin. But every time a nuclear attack has been mentioned, the possibility of being attacked has been ruled out on the one hand by military intelligence, on the other by the regulations on nuclear attacks.
The launching of an offensive nuclear attack is strictly prohibited for all nuclear powers and Russia would be in the wrong position if it initiated the attack. Moreover, the consequences of the dropping of an atomic bomb would be unprecedented and would not spare Russia. Still, the Kremlin doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons for tactical attacks on certain areas and this possibility was already put forward by the Russian forces a few months ago. According to General Jérôme Pellistrandi, guest on BFM TV on September 21, “this type of weapon can be used against Ukrainian forces to try to cause a panic”.
The Russian doctrine on nuclear attacks also authorizes an assault if the vital interests of Russia are threatened and Vladimir Putin opened this door a little during his speech on September 21 by assuring that territorial integrity, [la] freedom, [la] sovereignty will be defended [de la Russie] by any means necessary” and that they were already endangered by the actions of the West. Finally, the “hardliner” character of Russia is the last factor which raises fears of an attack. he is ready to go to the sacrifice, obviously the Russians will not retreat, it is a parameter that we must take into account, there will be no retreat, historic defeat of Russia, he will go until the end s ‘he thinks he can lose,’ said Colonel Peer De Jong, vice-president of the Themis Institute, also on the continuous news channel.
Several nuclear threats proliferated by Vladimir Putin
There are countless times when Russia has threatened the West to use its nuclear force, either openly or between the lines. At regular intervals and in particular when the Kremlin army is in bad shape or losing momentum, the nuclear deterrence strategy comes back to the fore and Vladimir Putin’s warning in his speech of September 21, 2022 is a new stage of this war. But if the threats follow one another, they are always presented as responses to a Western nuclear offensive. The master of the Kremlin reversed the roles during his speech by accusing NATO of “blackmailing nuclear weapons”, a tactic which was rather observed in the Russian camp.
Before the speech understood as a sign of weakness by Vladimir Putin, the previous Russian nuclear threat dates back to July 6, 2022 and was signed by the Vice-President of the Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev. On his Telegram account, the politician had waved the Russian arsenal in the face of the West: “The very idea of punishing a country which has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world is absurd in itself. And that potentially creates a threat for the existence of mankind”. And the former president of the Russian Federation was not at his first attempt since in March, only a few days after the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, he had detailed the scenarios in which Russia was allowed to use its nuclear weapons, scenarios that often blamed the West. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Minister has also brandished the nuclear threat intermittently with the master of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.
What do simulations of a Russian nuclear attack predict?
The nuclear threat has been brandished more than once since the start of the war in Ukraine. But the hypothesis of an attack took on another dimension in the spring of 2022 when, echoing Vladimir Putin’s speeches on the Russian strike force and arsenal, the media close to the Kremlin took part in the propaganda and lent themselves to simulations of a nuclear attack. On the public channel Rossiya 1, columnists assured on April 28, 2022 that it only took a few minutes for a missile to level European cities: 106 seconds to wipe Berlin off the map, 200 for Paris and 202 for London . The apocalyptic scenario is scary, but it is above all biased by pro-Russian discourse and conveys false information.
The following days, the speech of the Russian media and the simulations were discredited by the explanations of Benjamin Gravisse in the columns of Release. The political scientist specializing in Russian military issues said that the scenarios were based on the capabilities of the Satan 2 missile which is in possession of Russia but still in the test phase and unusable before the end of the year. Second problem, the simulations took into account a launch operated from the Kaliningrad enclave while this military base is not equipped to launch a nuclear missile and finally, even launched from this area, a missile would take longer to reach European capitals.
If these simulations of nuclear attacks are wrong, the risks of an assault with atomic weapons are always possible and the damage will be unprecedented. The fact remains that at the present time, apart from the capacities and the perimeters of the estimated destruction of each missile, nothing makes it possible to simulate the consequences of a nuclear attack. We simply know that within the Russian arsenal, certain nuclear warheads can reduce a territory over tens of kilometers to dust. Note that the West has missiles with an equivalent strike force.