Note to all - I’m putting this here as it’s inherently subjective (at this time) and not quite a fit for P&E. I also noted and thought about bumping “Imagine you are president and Putin nukes Kyiv” that @Hari_Seldon started, but find the situation is quite different 6 months down the line.
Specifically two recent articles made me re-examine my prior skepticism on if even Putin would use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine theater. For the record, I still lean towards unlikely, but I’m far from my earlier ‘nightmare’ scenario and have entered ‘horrified to see as plausible’ mode. The articles in question, in no particular order.
And as Zelenskyy opined, I don’t think he’s bluffing.
What informs my opinion largely is a quote from the second article -
On Telegram Tuesday, Dmitry Medvedev, who is now Russia’s Security Council chief, criticized US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, and the wider NATO alliance.
He said those leaders “constantly threaten us with ‘terrifying consequences’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons” and accused Truss of being “completely ready to immediately begin an exchange of nuclear strikes with our country.”
Medvedev said Russia’s laws around the use of nuclear weapons meant it could retaliate with them if it’s hit with nukes or attacked with conventional weapons that threatened “the very existence of our state.”
Now, the main reason I’m not drinking myself into a stupor yet is that I think we’re seeing Putin, via Medvedev (as well as his own statements) sending up a trial balloon on their new stance, especially in light of the hasty and fixed sham referendums in the captured and breakaway territories. To wit, that within a week or so, they will be formally annexed by Russia, and that despite all international protest, Russia will act going forward as if they are Russian territory. Therefore, if Ukraine attempts aggression on those borders, they will point to the above and use nuclear weapons (hopefully tactical) to protect said borders.
Putin cannot be seen as having lost, or backing down, but his military cannot deliver what he had previously declared. And especially if he dumps the majority of the 300k new draft into those areas, he can use any major loss or massacre of those troops as his fig leaf, while preserving the (slightly) more effective active military.
Okay - so now you know why I think it may well happen, feel free to agree or disagree, but I’m going to move on to the second part, the response. And sadly, they all pretty much assume that there will be no major change on the international front - because if Putin goes with said plan, I think while India may back out of any major support, they’ll probably still continue to buy energy due to their own needs, while speaking out against the horrible tragedy. And as for China, they will likely do that same, but as the above scenario once again paints Russia as merely defending it’s borders from NATO/Ukraine aggression, I think they’ll continue to sit back.
In that case, I see three main scenarios, which I’m putting in order of most to least likely IMHO.
Outrage followed by non-nuclear response. Basically, lots of talk about how the unthinkable has happened, but refusal to escalate the situation when there is that much on the line. I expect, as a matter of realpolitik that while there will be no direct response, that Ukraine will be fast tracked into EU/NATO but the de facto new borders will remain. So that if Russia does anything else in terms of the border, it’ll be a mandatory NATO full retaliation. We’ll be back to full on Cold War with a new wall going up in the occupied territories.
Measured retaliation as a statement that unilateral nuclear attacks cannot be allowed, followed by a nuclear demonstration on a Russian Military Target. A military base / supply depot far from associated civilians will be targeted and destroyed with a nuclear weapon. Probably with enough warning to prevent a full consequential Russian launch and maybe even time to evacuate the personnel, just not the equipment.
An attempted tactical strike (nuclear or not) on Putin himself. In that he will be held directly responsible, and that as per two above, the international community can and must punish those who would use nuclear weapons as active political tools to support changes of borders.
NOW TO BE CLEAR, I still figure something like an 80% chance of (1), with the other two splitting the difference, but I never thought I’d bee seeing this as even issue and the need for response as vaguely plausible.
Okay, now for adult beverages, and to desperately try to get to get “Eve of Destruction” to stop playing on auto-repeat in my mind.
ETA - I’m trying to keep this a narrow topic rather than any of our more general Ukraine war threads, as this is, well, just that important.