The Ukrainian Conflict and the Nuclear Threat

Oleg Pavlov
In the last few months the USA and its European allies (or de facto satellites), and US-controlled media, have been persistently and even obsessively speculating about Russia’s alleged plans to use tactical nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict.

One of the most recent of these provocations was a story published in Britain’s Daily Mail, which claimed that Russian has already chose the target for a nuclear strike. The article cites a recent conversation between the Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. The French President was made nervous by statements made by Vladimir Putin, which he saw as a threat aimed at Ukraine.

Although in actual fact the Russian President’s words mean quite the opposite: as he has said on more than one occasion, and not only to Emmanuel Macron, the USA is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons, and that in doing so it set a precedent.  Russia has also stressed a number of times that there are no political or military reasons why it should use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The circumstances in which Russian could use nuclear weapons are comprehensively listed in a document issued on June 20, 2020, the Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence. That document clearly states that Russia considers nuclear weapons “exclusively as a means of deterrence, their use being an extreme and compelled measure”. It also states that in the event of a military conflict, Russia’s policy provides for the termination of military actions on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation.

The West has sought to relate the above passages to the war in Ukraine, taking no account either of the very limited circumstances in which Russia could use nuclear weapons or of the undertaking made by Russia and the other nuclear powers in the UN Security Council in a special statement issued on January 3, 2022. In that statement, issued before the beginning of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, the five members of the UN Security Council stressed that they “consider the avoidance of war between Nuclear-Weapon States and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities”. The statement goes on to stress that “nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war”.  In the document the signatories expressly declare that none of their nuclear weapons are targeted at each other or at any other State.

That could hardly be expressed any more clearly. The Russian government has also issued statements affirming this principle, as has the Chinese government, not least during the visit by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to China, so why, one may ask, is the West persistently and stubbornly promoting nuclear scare stories.

The answer to that question may not be quite as simple as it might appear at first sight. Firstly, no-one in the West has forgotten the speech made by the Ukrainian President, Volodymir Zelensky, in the 58th Munich Security Conference, in which he directly stated that if the guarantors of the Budapest Memorandum did not agree to consultations and Ukraine was not offered any security guarantees, then Ukraine would have every right “to believe that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and all package decisions of 1994 have been put under question”. In other words, on February 20 this year, before the beginning of Russia’s special military operation, Ukraine raised the issue of relinquishing its nuclear-free status. It is therefore understandable that Russia was concerned that Ukraine might engage in secret operations to restore its nuclear potential in some way, possibly by making a so-called dirty nuclear bomb which could be used in a false flag operation as a pretext for accusing Russia of breaching its commitment in the UN Security Council statement issued on January 3.

Secondly, while they vary in content, the continuous scare stories about Russia’s alleged plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine serve as a cover enabling politicians and the media to probe Moscow’s intentions in relation to the conflict in Ukraine. Russia is continually being forced to deny baseless and far-fetched accusations on its alleged plans to use weapons of mass destruction, and the fact that Moscow is always having to justify itself gives other countries the mistaken impression that it is hiding something and has something up its sleeve. Ironically, it is widely known that after the end of the Second World War the Western powers, especially Britain, drew up detailed potential plans to attack the USSR using nuclear weapons (the now declassified Dropshot and Unthinkable plans).

And now, the unfounded rumors about Russia’s plans to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine are being used as a smokescreen to enable the further modernization of the USA’s nuclear arsenal in Europe and to threaten Russia. Moreover, the media furor is being used to distract attention from the USA’s plans to base nuclear weapons in Russia’s neighbors, including Poland and the NATO membership candidates Finland and Sweden.

Thirdly, well aware that nuclear weapons are a form of deterrent, the USA and its satellited are (or were until recently) genuinely concerned that their aggressive stance against Moscow, including in relation to the Ukrainian conflict (such as by supplying Ukraine with heavy weaponry, including long-range rocket systems, Western-made tanks and fighter aircraft) might be seen by the Russian government as threatening Russia’s security and justifying the use of nuclear weapons. In the last few months, the Russian government has offered many assurances that there is no question of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and as a result the West has concluded that the risk of Russian using weapons of mass destruction in any event is low, as is clear from the decision to base the US 101st Airborne Division in Romania, from where it could potentially be sent to Ukraine.

In response to the alleged risks of Russia using nuclear weapons, the US is working with Ukraine to deploy a force of submarines equipped with nuclear rockets, as well as aircraft carriers, both in the Mediterranean sea and in the waters off the British coast (at present well away from Russia, but still within the striking range of US nuclear rockets). This demonstration of US military force has clearly gone to the heads of Kiev’s politicians, who, emboldened by America’s unlimited military support, are puffing themselves up like male grouse in mating season and repeating their quite unrealistic call for the “total liberation” of Ukraine and its return to its 1991 borders. Volodymir Zelensky and his government have grouped around the slogan of “no negotiations with Moscow” and by cementing this position in law, they have forced themselves into a dead end.

Naturally, Volodymir Zelensky and his team need all the weapons and support from the West that they can get, and they are getting extremely wealthy in the process. He needs to draw out the conflict as long as possible, and is playing games with human lives and human suffering. But these speculations and the stories about Russia’s alleged plans to use nuclear weapons are the last think the people of Russia or Ukraine -especially the people of Ukraine, who are risking a winter without light or heating because of the unrealistic policies of their president and his Western allies.

Moscow’s message remains the same as in the past – we do not need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and we are open to negotiation. Is it necessary to add anything to that?