Will Putin Deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons?
Over the last week, Putin has apparently began threatening the use of smaller, so-called tactical nuclear weapons to defend his newly, and obviously falsely, annexed territory. This has, understandably, caused more than a fair bit of speculation that has reached the level of outright panic in some circles.
I think that the use of tactical nuclear weapons is exceedingly unlikely for two reasons.
First is that Russia is not a totalitarian state with a single leader who has a cult of personality that allows him to do as he pleases. Putin has a lot of the power in Russia to be sure, but the country, practically, is run by several dozen oligarchs who control various industries and number among the wealthiest individuals on the planet.
Already, the war with Ukraine has meant worse sanctions than Russia has faced since it was the Soviet Union, and, perhaps worse for the oligarchs, more international focus on their financial dealings than ever before. If for no other reason than the oligarchs want to resume their normal lives of making billions of dollars, they would not likely allow Putin to make the decision to use a tactical nuclear weapon since it would, at the very least, make Russia a pariah on a global scale.
Secondly, despite all of the rhetoric, ideology, and nastiness going on between nations within the context of the conflict, I still think that Russia behaves somewhat rationally in regard to its own survival. As we have seen, Russian military capabilities are severely limited and they seem, if anything, to be losing ground to a much smaller country.
If Russia were to use a nuclear weapon of any size, this would more or less envoke the very reason for NATO’s creation, and then it is likely that, at the very least, the full might of the German, French, Czech, Belgian, and a dozen other airforces would be brought to bear against the already weakened Russian forces. This would result in not only a loss of the annexed territories but likely the war as a whole and possibly a violent end to the Putin Regime.
Nothing that I have said here is groundbreaking, nor does it require a crystal ball: it is my estimation that Russia is fully aware that they are caught in a corner, and much of its current rhetoric is a hollow attempt to drum up national pride at home to spur faltering recruitment numbers.
They hope, as far as I can tell, that Ukraine will tire of the attrition before Russia does. Though I do not see that as a likely outcome, I do think it means that this war will not end by nuclear means. What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not Russia can be considered a rational actor.