Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine and response from the United States and its NATO allies, there have been legitimate concerns that Russia could, for a variety of reasons, escalate the conflict to the point of using nuclear weapons.
That potential threat was reiterated this week by a top Russian official, Dmitry Medvedev, as he reminded the world of Russia’s doctrine governing the justifiable use, in its view, of nuclear weapons, including “first strike” use, the Conservative Brief reported.
Medvedev is a chief loyalist to Russian President Vladimir Putin who previously served as the president himself and currently serves as the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council — meaning his words have weight and should be considered as though they were uttered by Putin himself.
The conditions allowing for a nuclear Russian first strike
The Guardian reported that Medvedev, in a Saturday interview at the Kremlin in Moscow, stated: “We have a special document on nuclear deterrence. This document indicates the grounds on which the Russian Federation is entitled to use nuclear weapons.”
“There are a few of them, let me remind them to you: number one is the situation, when Russia is struck by a nuclear missile. The second case is any use of other nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies,” he continued.
“The third is an attack on a critical infrastructure that will have paralyzed our nuclear deterrent forces,” Medvedev said. “And the fourth case is when an act of aggression is committed against Russia and its allies, which jeopardized the existence of the country itself, even without the use of nuclear weapons, that is, with the use of conventional weapons.”
He added that Russia had a fierce “determination to defend the independence, sovereignty of our country, not to give anyone a reason to doubt even the slightest that we are ready to give a worthy response to any infringement on our country, on its independence.”
Those comments from Medvedev about the conditions in which Russia might feel compelled to resort to the use of nuclear weapons is, obviously, quite concerning, particularly the third and fourth situations, which could conceivably be construed as including the crushing Western economic sanctions or potential cyberattacks as an existential provocation justifying a nuclear “first strike.”
Putin has previously threatened to use nuclear options
Medvedev’s remarks also bolster the threat issued by Putin himself at the start of the invasion of Ukraine, when he ominously said, according to CNN, that “Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history.”
So what might a Russian nuclear strike look like? According to EuroNews, it largely depends upon whether Russia chooses to deploy its long-range strategic nuclear arsenal against the U.S. and/or Western European enemies or if, perhaps even more likely, it decides to use its so-called “battlefield” or “tactical” nukes — smaller warheads designed to have a limited and localized impact.
However, even such limited use of nuclear weapons, or even more so misinformed miscalculations amid the nuclear saber-rattling — such as this hypothetical scenario envisioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative — threaten to send the dominos of mutually assured destruction tumbling in a cascade that results in a civilization-ending exchange of nuclear missiles.
All of that to say, the nuclear threat posed by Putin’s Russia is very real and very dangerous and should be taken quite seriously by Western leaders and treated as a top consideration in any of its efforts and plans to counter and halt Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.