I hope, HOPE that there is currently a lot of diplomatic pressure being put onto India, China and middle eastern countries to tell Russia in no uncertain terms that the use of any nuke, anywhere will result in:
full worldwide economic sanctions against the entirety of the Russian economy.
a full on blockade of Russian ports and airspace - nothing goes in or out.
preparations for full military obliteration of Russia by the US, China, India, the rest of NATO, all the way down every country including Seychelles. Russia can have North Korea and Syria as allies if they’d like.
Russia needs to know that the use of any nuke will result in the complete and utter destruction of their country in totality.
on the upside that is what Ukr. is doing now to russia … eating away “russian” (note the " ") territory, ant like… slowly but surely … so there is no BIG blitz attack … basically the same you are saying but inverted … so given this scenario, there is no real pressing case to use tactical nukes, just b/c Ukr. took Novosikorski village today and tomorrow they’ll take Starijsikorski village
also, I think those huge troop concentrations (that would get you most-bang-for-the-Mton) are a thing of the past … setting a nuke off in some cornfield around Lyman to kill 4.000 troops (half of it yours) does not make practical sense … (of course there is the symbolic sense)
If/when they use a tactical nuke, I suspect it will be for maximum effect on multiple fronts. So not on a troop position adjacent to their own, but more likely at a major supply / reserve position where the Western materials are gathered, probably close to, but not on the Ukraine’s western border.
So that they can demonstrate just how bad it can be if NATO et al continue to offend them, while dealing substantial damage to any Ukraine offense. And if there are substantial civilian losses because it’s a rear area? Russia hasn’t given a damn about that to date, so…
But you’re absolutely correct, they won’t use it on anything minor - I’d be more likely to bet that they target Zelenskyy’s current position and hit it, they don’t exactly need to be precise with this after all. And considering Putin’s personality, I’m certain he would take great personal joy in inviting Zelenskyy to the great Stairway in the Sky for said leader to metaphorically fall down.
Echoing what @LSLGuy says upthread, Russian views of nuclear weapons are and have always been different from the West and in that vein, they have never really subscribed to the supposed difference between Strategic and Tactical nuclear weapons.
Apparently I’m not the only one giving this very topic a hard think today -
A couple of snips of note -
However Soviet doctrine, which the Russians still seem to be following, allows local commanders to use tactical nuclear weapons to stave off defeat, or loss of Russian territory.
The attempted annexation of four districts through the current sham referendums makes the likelihood of tactical use very high, if these places are attacked. Though one still expects that local commanders would defer to Putin first before pressing their own equivalent of a red button.
For part one and
The West must make it absolutely clear to Putin that any use of nuclear, or chemical or biological weapons is a real redline issue. That said, I don’t think all-out nuclear war is at all likely.
NATO must direct that it will take out Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons if they move out of their current locations to a position where they could threaten Ukraine, and must also make clear that any deliberate attacks on nuclear power stations will exact an equal and greater response from NATO.
For part two.
The bit about using tactical nuclear weapons to stave off a ‘defeat’ is a new one for me, and not one I wanted to read before bed. I really want to know what constitutes a defeat worthy of using such weapons in more detail, but am afraid we may find out when this gets a related Breaking News or FQ thread.
The West cannot make this clear. Biden may promise such a thing, and he may be sincere. But thanks to Obama’s lie about the “red line” regarding chem weapons in Syria, no US President will ever seem credible on this issue until they actually follow through with consequences.
Russia’s stated doctrine isn’t really reliable. The real “defeat” is always anything that could threaten the stability of the current regime.
I’m sorry to say it, but I think Putin will have calculated that his personal hold on power cannot survive a humiliating defeat in Ukraine, and that defeat is already shipped if not actually delivered and signed for. He must save face. He needs an offramp that no outside country can give him.
At this point, the only way Putin can save face without assuring his own annihilation would be to swap enemies. NATO for Ukraine. Putin uses a small nuke against a “tactical” target in Ukraine that destroys a medium-small city. NATO mounts a vigorous conventional response. Putin can then announce to the public “OK guys, our mobilization was about to crush Ukraine, but NATO changed our plans. Now we have to pull out of Ukraine and reorient our defenses toward NATO. And never forget, we actually beat NATO, because we used a nuke and NATO didn’t dare respond. Russia is great again.”
I’d say the odds are better than 50/50 that this happens in the next 4-6 weeks. Maybe less.
I think your (HMS) comment perfectly pairs with my (and others to be clear) comments earlier. Most of our posters, from a Western POV, kept thinking that Putin will behave in the ways we expect - kind of like how if you know the tropes in a Bond / Superhero movie, you can guess what the villain of the story will do. And we get blinded by our assumptions.
Russia is betting (again IMHO) that -this- time will be like most every other time that Russia has broken our (not their) rules in Syria, Crimea, etc; and back down. They just have to weather a little temper tantrum, some sanctions, and a few election cycles later, all the various Western nations will have their own issues to worry about and it’ll be back to business as usual.
The Western nations have had to have a serious look at those earlier assumptions, and we’re still trying to readjust. I don’t think we’re there yet by any means, and tend to lend credence to Zelenskyy’s opinion, because he’s got the first-hand view of what’s going on. And he doesn’t think Putin’s bluffing. More so, the US especially has a Captain Kirk like mentality of not believing in the ‘no-win’ situation. And that can be very dangerous.
Putin OTOH has dug himself in deep enough to realize he’s at risk internally of being seen to be weakened, or worse yet a failure, but doesn’t seem to consider NATO and the rest to be actual threats. Because we’ve always, eventually, given in. And he’s strong, and he knows it. So winning his war, by whatever means, is still a win. And Russian culture is full of proud pyrrhic victories.
Combine these two, and it seems to almost inevitably lead to escalation. I’m not quite as pessimistic of the odds as HMS, but I don’t see any better offramp for Putin, and not a lot of options for NATO/West that don’t escalate the situation or lead to yet more instances of nuclear blackmail.
I usually do not look into politics but I did follow some debates in India on this issue. Broadly, the consensus in India, is that the Ukraine war is an European issue. Europe has kept itself un-involved in many recent crisis in Middle-East, Africa, Asia etc etc, and it is strongly felt that other countries should have the same option. To reiterate, Europe’s problems are not the world’s problems.
So sure, Russian use of nuclear weapons is repugnant on many levels, and here I’d like to borrow some lines from @LSLGuy
An overwhelming conventional response from NATO would need to be near immediately. Have we seen any activity from NATO forces (US included) showing that they are positioning themselves and preparing for that scenario?
This is a rather naive attitude when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons in war. You can be assured that if the nukes start going off in Europe, India will not be spared the consequences. This is not the 19th century when the world’s countries were not as connected economically as they are today. The obliteration of Europe in nuclear fire would have dire results for every human on the planet.
Reminds me of the warmongering “Weapons of Mass Destruction” speech given by Rumsfield before invading Iraq. An invasion btw, that was opposed by Germany and France !!
Moreover, all news analysis I have seen point to the use of Russian tactical nukes with limited areas of destruction. In effect, that maybe similar to the use of White phosphorus in the Syrian war - which did not bring out the moral outrage in Europeans.
What I have seen specifically, in Indian debates, is that sure India may join in the fight against Russia, but it will do so weighing the pros and cons, just like the Europeans do for wars in other places. Pretty sure, so will China.
You think it will stop at that? As I said above, this is not the 1940’s anymore. When the nukes fly, that’s the end of civilization as we know it. India will not be spared the consequences, even if not a single weapon is detonated anywhere nearby.
You are right - that is surely one of the outcomes. And like it was pointed out earlier, a good chess player considers all moves and outcomes before making her moves. US does so, Europe does so, So will India, China and other countries.
The last move might well be the opposing player realizing he’s losing and then flipping the board over and shooting you in the head before killing himself. We may not be dealing with rational actors here.
I noted you quoted my statement, but wasn’t clear if you were trying to agree or disagree. I felt my statement was largely aligned with yours though, that while India would likely not directly support Russia, they would put their own interests first and likely continue to buy energy for their own needs while decrying the use of nuclear weapons.
As you said, they’ll play the game to their own interests. And, much like China, I don’t think we’d get worldwide acceptance of sanctions against those two nations if a predominantly military target gets struck by a tactical weapon from Russia and they continue to trade with Russian for non-military goods. I do think India will be slightly more cautious in their strategy though, as they don’t want to normalize use of nuclear weapons in border situations, considering their own border issues.
Yeah, I’d put my money on Putin figuring the West would be stunned, decry the use of nuclear weapons, but not actually escalate, considering the insanely high stakes.
He knows nobody on our side wants nuclear war, or even to get involved in the conventional war in Ukraine. So he’s got the West over a sort of barrel as far as he’s willing to risk being wrong about the West being unwilling to escalate into general nuclear war.
I have no doubt that tactical nuclear weapon use in Ukraine would absolutely NOT be met with nuclear weapon use by the West. They’d likely crank whatever screws are left down on Russia, up to and including blockading ports, etc… but I seriously doubt they’d actually nuke anything Russian in retaliation.