Last week, when he announced the mobilization of 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin again threatened to use nuclear weapons in the conflict that began in February.
The Russian leader said the weapons could be used to “protect” the country’s territory, already anticipating annexations to be voted on in referendums in eastern and southern Ukraine due to end on Tuesday (27). Ukraine and the West have already said they will not recognize the results of these consultations. Marked by allegations of abuses and coercion.
This Kremlin threat raises some important questions: Is this a real danger or is it Putin’s bluff? If Russia were to use nuclear weapons, where and how would these attacks look? And what will be the world’s reaction?
In an article for the New York Times, Jonathan Stevenson, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Steven Simon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for International Studies highlighted Russia’s use of tactical nuclear power. Weapons of extremely low power but still capable of producing an explosion of 50 kilotons of TNT (the yield of the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons) would open a new chapter in military history, one of unpredictable consequences.
“Tactical Nuclear Weapons [sua presença no arsenal das potências nucleares e o uso político da ameaça de sua utilização] disrupts the delicate balance of inhibition. “They lower the barriers to nuclear use and blur the line between conventional and nuclear war,” they explained.
According to military analyst Alessandro Visagro, there is a real possibility that Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in the coming months, due to the fact that Moscow wants to “harvest victory” in a conflict the expert points to as a “proxy” war. West, further escalation of tensions, in which neither side sought an abatement.
“Gradually, the stakes are being raised, and these stakes, in a still reckless and inappropriate diplomacy, have already crossed many thresholds. The fact that you have an armed conflict in Eastern Europe today is completely unnecessary. It represents the catastrophe of diplomacy that has made serious mistakes over the past few decades,” he noted.
Another military analyst, Paulo Filho, agrees that the risk is real. “The use of nuclear weapons is prohibited, which was used only twice by the US in 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then never again. But it is inevitable. If Putin feels completely helpless, he may use them, which will escalate the conflict to unimaginable levels,” the expert warned.
If there is some consensus among military analysts that Putin may indeed use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the question cannot be asked of what the reaction would be if such an attack were to occur.
Over the weekend, White House National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan In an interview with CBS News, he said that the United States has warned Russia about the issue.. “We have said directly, personally, at the highest levels of the Kremlin, that the use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic consequences for Russia, and that the United States and our allies would respond decisively,” he said.
Richard K. Betts, a professor at Columbia University and deputy senior fellow at the American think tank Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out in an article for the State Department that the United States could respond in three ways: Condemn a nuclear attack, but do it. militarily; Also use nuclear weapons; Or enter the war directly by deploying large-scale conventional airstrikes and ground forces without resorting to nuclear weapons.
“All of these alternatives are bad because there are no low-risk options for dealing with the end of the nuclear ban. A conventional war response would be the least of the three because it would avoid the high risks of weak and strong options,” he argued, a “green light” for the Kremlin’s first choice and imagination. out of reach A nuclear power surge could occur from Monday.
In the case of a nuclear response by the Western military alliance NATO, Betts wrote, the prevailing view is that there would be an “eye for an eye” attack, meaning damage to Russia of the same proportion as a first Kremlin strike. . Another would be a large response. In this case, the risks would be the consequences for the Ukrainian people if an attack against Russian troops is inside an occupied country, or if the response is on Russian territory creating an “unlimited war”.
Eliminate China and India?
However, Paulo Filho does not believe that NATO will directly enter the war in Ukraine even after a Russian attack with tactical nuclear weapons.
“I think they are [países da OTAN] Increases support in conventional weapons, providing some not yet provided. For example, Patriot, anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapon systems, missiles with a range of more than 70 km. For Himars Multiple Rocket Launcher System, and then more advanced conventional weapons to better support the Ukrainian war effort. And NATO will increase anti-Russian rhetoric, money and material deliveries [à Ucrânia]But not directly involved in the war,” he explained, citing the fact that Ukraine is not part of the military alliance.
The military analyst pointed out that the use of nuclear weapons could lead even allies to turn away from Putin.
“If Russia uses a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, they will
[Kremlin] For example, they could use it in a remote, sparsely populated area, which would cause relatively few casualties and little nuclear contamination, as a form of warning that they would be willing to use the weapon, Paulo Filho argued.
“Now, if such a weapon is used in Kiev, for example, trying to remove the president [Volodymyr] Zelensky and his government, this will cause a huge international chaos and the Russians will be completely isolated. They will have no support from either China or India. And it would be a clear offensive stance against all Russian rhetoric that it will only use nuclear weapons to defend itself,” the expert added.
Paulo Filho noted that an attack on nuclear-armed and conventional Russian territory “would be World War III,” so he believes the West will not consider this possibility. However, this does not mean that Kyiv will not continue to try to recapture occupied territories in areas where Russian annexation referendums are held.
“When Putin holds these annexation referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, he is creating rhetoric for his own people that it has become Russian territory. But this is clearly a ruse, so the West is under no obligation to assume that Russian territory and Ukrainians will continue to attack,” explained Paulo Filho. .
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