Russia says nuclear weapon use is justified by an 'existential threat'

Russia says nuclear weapon use is justified by an 'existential threat'

Russia says a decision on whether to use a nuclear weapon is ‘set out in our military doctrine’ – which includes ‘existential threat’ as justification

  • Alexander Grushko refused to rule out a nuclear strike against Ukraine
  • He pointed to Russia’s doctrine which says an existential threat justifies their use
  • Ukraine has already hit targets within Russia with conventional weapons 

Russia has refused to rule out a nuclear strike on Ukraine, pointing to its ‘military doctrine’ which allows for the use of atomic weapons when facing an ‘existential threat’.

The Kremlin’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko was asked if Vladimir Putin would carry out a preemptive tactical attack against Kyiv.

He replied: ‘We have a military doctrine – everything is written there.’

The official military deployment principles allow for the use of nuclear weapons if they – or other types of weapons of mass destruction – are used against Russia. 

They can also be used if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons, allowing for a broad interpretation.

Russia has refused to rule out a nuclear strike on Ukraine, pointing to its ‘military doctrine’. Pictured: the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile during a test launch last month

The Kremlin’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko (pictured) was asked if Vladimir Putin would carry out a preemptive tactical attack against Kyiv

Ukraine has already used conventional missiles to strike targets within Russia’s borders. 

The decision to use Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, the biggest in the world, rests with Putin.

In recent weeks he has been spotted with his nuclear football, the suitcase which allows him to order a nuclear strike from anywhere in the world.

His special ‘Doomsday’ plane which allows him to continue ruling Russia during a nuclear war has also been seen flying around Moscow.

CIA Director William Burns said on Saturday that Putin believes he cannot afford to lose in Ukraine and cautioned that the West could not ignore the risk of the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Moscow.

Putin’s special ‘Doomsday’ plane which allows him to continue ruling Russia during a nuclear war has also been seen flying around Moscow

In recent weeks the leader has been spotted with his nuclear football, the suitcase which allows him to order a nuclear strike from anywhere in the world

‘We don’t see, as an intelligence community, practical evidence at this point of Russian planning for a deployment or even use of tactical nuclear weapons,’ Burns said.

He cautioned, though, that ‘the stakes are very high for Putin’s Russia.’

A decree signed by Putin on June 2, 2020, said Russia views its nuclear weapons as ‘exclusively a means of deterrence’.

It repeats the phraseology of the military doctrine but adds details about four circumstances under which a nuclear strike would be ordered. 

These include reliable information of a ballistic missile attack on Russia and an enemy’s attack ‘on critical state or military installations of the Russian Federation, the incapacitation of which would lead to the disruption of a response by nuclear forces.’

During Monday’s Victory Day celebrations, Putin showed off Russia’s nuclear missile launchers during Moscow’s Red Square parade.

And just last week, Russia carried out simulated launches of nuclear-capable missiles from an enclave of territory in mainland Europe.

A Russian intercontinental ballistic missile – thought to be the RS-24 Yars capable of carrying up to 10 warheads – drives through the Red Square during Victory Day celebrations

War games taking place in Kaliningrad – a chunk of Russian territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea – involved ‘electronic launches’ of Iskander ballistic missiles, Moscow’s defence ministry said.

Iskander crews practised hitting targets including enemy missile systems, airfields, infrastructure and military command posts, the ministry added, before manoeuvering to avoid a retaliatory strike.

The drills did not involve any actual missiles being fired.

Russia has increasingly resorted to nuclear sabre-rattling as the war in Ukraine has stumbled, with state media issuing near-daily threats.

State propagandists threatened on at least three occasions to destroy the UK with nuclear weapons, while also suggesting Paris and Berlin could be targeted. 

Putin also issued a threat that was widely perceived to be nuclear – saying any country deemed to be interfering in Ukraine would face a ‘lightning fast’ retaliation using weapons ‘no other country can boast of’.

A Russian BTR-82A armoured personnel carrier, Iskander-M missile launchers and MSTA-S self-propelled howitzers drive through Red Square

The phrase is assumed to be a reference to Russia’s new Sarmat 2 nuclear missile, which Putin had tested just days earlier and referred to at the time as ‘unique’.

It echoes a threat Putin made at the start of the war, saying any nation that seeks to block his ‘special military operation’ will face consequences ‘unseen in their history’.

Just a few days later he ordered Defence Ministry Sergei Shoigu to place Russia’s nuclear forces on ‘special alert’ – a phrase that typically means increasing the readiness of nuclear weapons.

While some nukes are kept in a state of constant readiness, the majority of warheads are stored separate from their launch systems and in a deactivated state.

Increasing nuclear readiness can mean activating warheads and pairing them up with launch systems. It could also mean dispersing those systems across a wide territory to reduce the odds of them being destroyed before they can be used.

But, despite Putin’s order, US intelligence says it has seen no signs that Russia has actually increased its nuclear alert status.

James Heappey, the UK armed forces minister, also dismissed the Kremlin’s rhetoric as ‘bravado’ and said the fact that Russia is resorting to such threats indicates its invasion is not going to plan.

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