Is Russia planning a tactical nuclear strike?

2024-05-26 11:48:51Kosova&Bota SHKRUAR NGA ROMAN GONçARENKO
Russia conducts military maneuvers, photo provided by the Russian agency Tass

For the first time since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russia is conducting maneuvers with tactical atomic weapons. Would it make sense for Moscow to deploy such weapons?

Russia has begun maneuvers with atomic weapons announced at the beginning of May. The first phase of the exercise taking place in the south of the country near the Ukrainian border includes the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, the Ministry of Defense in Moscow announced. Such exercises take place for the first time since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. They are developed by the units of the "Southern Military Department" of air defense with the participation of the air and naval armed forces.

The goal is to "increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces. In addition to Russian territory, Russian air defense also extends to the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as to the regions, Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia, since 2022 were partially occupied and after staged referendums, President Putin declared them as part of Russian territory.

Moscow's atomic threats and criticism from the West

Representatives of Western countries have criticized Moscow's leadership because of atomic threats. Although President Putin has not openly threatened a nuclear attack, he has warned the West of the possibility of a nuclear war in the event of a direct confrontation with Russia. The former Russian president and deputy chairman of the National Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, despite this, has threatened several times with the use of atomic weapons. On May 6, he expressed himself similarly. He linked the decision to conduct maneuvers with tactical atomic weapons to the debate in the West, whether it is permissible to send Western ground troops to Ukraine.

Even Putin's spokesman, Peskov, connected the atomic maneuvers with the statements of Western politicians about the possible sending of ground troops to Ukraine and mentioned here especially the French president, Emmanuel Macron. Peskov spoke of a "new round of escalation".

What are tactical atomic weapons?

Tactical atomic weapons are distinguished from strategic ones. They have a smaller range and have less power, they can be artillery, but more often ballistic missiles and other war missiles. They start from both conventional systems and those prepared with nuclear warheads.

Ground-based missile systems with a range of up to 500 km, as well as sea-based or air-based missiles with a range of 600 km, are considered tactical atomic weapons. There are no clear boundaries in their classification.

Use in Ukraine "makes no sense"

Experts asked by Deutsche Welle are of the opinion that the use of atomic weapons in Ukraine is unlikely and, in addition, it is meaningless. "In a military sense, the use of atomic weapons by Russia in Ukraine makes no sense under such circumstances," says Pavel Podvig, head of research at the UN Institute for Disarmament Studies. Nothing has changed in this regard, he says.

Russia will not attack in such a maneuver, but the procedure for the use of weapons, says expert Podvig. "As non-strategic warheads are normally stored separately from the missiles and aircraft from which they can be launched." Podvig hopes that this maneuver for security reasons will take place with simulated military equipment.

And the expert Nikolai Sonov, researcher at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Counter-Proliferation (VCDNP), is of the opinion that there were "never" plans for the use of atomic weapons in Ukraine. These plans did not exist even in the fall of 2022, when the Russian army withdrew from the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. There have been reports in the American media that this is supposedly the topic in the Russian Federation. But now the Russian army has gained superiority in many directions against the Ukrainian one and is advancing in some areas in the direction Eastern, says Sokov. Kiev even expects an expansion of Russian attacks.

Nuclear drill "warning the West"

Russian threats have a different background. "Nuclear escalation" is a phrase that the West has been dreading since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It is even seen as the main reason, according to some Western politicians and experts, why Ukraine's arms supply is progressing slowly and limited.

Mathieu Boulègue of the American Wilson Center says that Moscow is based on this. He does not believe that the maneuver is only related to "France's position", when Macron did not rule out sending ground troops a few weeks ago, but is part of "continuous intimidation and sharpening of swords on the part of the Kremlin" in order to break the West's determination to support Ukraine.

Experts are of the opinion that Russia's military maneuvers are more "a signal and warning addressed to the West". This political signal does not contain anything good, however, efforts should be made to understand it clearly", emphasizes expert Pavel Podvig. / DW