[imagesource: The Telegraph]
Vladimir Putin is not right in the head.
You probably knew that already, but many who have dealt with him in recent years claim he has become “paranoid” and is “losing his sense of reality”.
Not what you want to hear when Russia is sitting on a stockpile of around 6 000 nuclear warheads.
Other countries known to have nuclear weapons are the US, China, France, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea.
The threat of nuclear war was intensified when Putin said that anybody interfering with Russia’s invasion will face consequences “as you have never seen in your entire history” on February 24.
He went even further on February 27 when he ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to a “special regime of combat duty”.
How worried should we be? Vox spoke with three researchers of nuclear arms control about the risks the world faces:
“I’m more worried than I was a week ago,” [Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists] said. He pointed out that NATO increased its readiness levels for “all contingencies” in response to Putin’s speech, and with increased military buildup comes increased uncertainty.
“That’s the fog of war, so to speak,” Kristensen said. “Out of that can come twists and turns that take you down a path that you couldn’t predict a week ago.”
Matthew Bunn, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and former adviser to President Bill Clinton’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, was initially rather unperturbed, saying he thinks “there is virtually no chance nuclear weapons are going to be used in the Ukraine situation”.
After Putin spoke on February 27 he walked back that certainty:
“No one outside of Putin’s inner circle knows for sure why Putin has taken this action,” he said in an email. “My guess — and it’s only that — is that it is intended as further signaling to deter anyone in the West from even thinking about intervening militarily to help Ukraine.”
Paul Hare, senior lecturer in global studies at Boston University, said that Putin knows that nuclear war will not serve his goal.
VICE also spoke with a number of nuclear deterrence experts about the likelihood:
The specifics of Putin’s threat are unclear, but they take place at an incredible time of instability. Experts VICE News spoke with agreed that the threats were unique, but that the West shouldn’t respond and should seek to de-escalate tensions.
“The overall thing is that some nuclear weapons are always kept on alert,” Emma Claire Foley, a senior associate in policy and research at Global Zero, a nonprofit that seeks the elimination of nuclear weapons, told VICE News. She said that both the U.S. and Russia have intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that are always ready to launch. “That threat is constant, and there’s a very short decision time for whether that kind of attack will be launched.”
Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said we are looking at an “extremely dangerous situation” and NATO needs “to de-escalate the nuclear rhetoric immediately”:
“The higher the alert, you open yourself up to mistakes, accidents, and misunderstandings… long term, we have to work on multilateral nuclear disarmament. We’ve seen now over almost a decade of undermining arms control agreements, violating arms control agreements, undermining international law, discarding multilateralism, that’s when you end up in situations like this when countries and leaders feel like they can do whatever they want and get away with it.”
The United States and Russia have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world by quite some margin.
Nuclear capabilities include weapons that can be used via aircraft, submarine, or land-based ballistic missiles.
The BBC’s Ros Atkins puts together excellent short-form videos explaining complicated issues. In the video below, he looks at the history of nuclear tensions and deals between the US and Russia:
Even though the general consensus is that Putin would be a fool to roll out the nuclear weapons, it appears that option is not entirely off the table.
Multiple US political figures have pointed to the Russian president’s extensive time in COVID isolation as a possible cause for what Czech President Milos Zeman called his “despotic mindset”.
As things stand, Russian troops are edging closer to Kyiv. Satellite images show an armoured convoy that is around 65 kilometres long, and “dozens” of civilians are reported to have died after Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.
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