What if Russia uses Tactical Nukes in Ukraine to take out Kyiv?

Let’s say the Russian offensive stalls, due to increased defenses, broken supply lines, demoralized troops, or whatever reason you want. It’s now been two months since Russia crossed over into Ukrainian territory and Putin has been marginalized by the rest of the world. The Russian people are suffering, and Putin has to end this thing or face total humiliation at home.

Putin thinks that if he can take Kyiv then Ukraine will surrender and the war will be over, so he brings out his tactical nukes and fires 3 of them into Kyiv causing massive destruction and loss of life.

Would that change the dynamic? Is NATO or the US now forced to go in and neutralize Russia’s offensive capability including using our own tactical nukes if necessary? Can tactical nukes be used in a limited way and not start WWIII and total annihilation of Russia, Europe, and North America?

I think there would be no intervention except simply even more sanctions.

Unless, for instance, Putin were to announce that he is about to drop even more nukes - on Kharkiv, Odessa, Lviv, etc. At that point, I think we’d see the NATO no-fly zone that many people have begged for - but only for the sake of interdicting bombers dropping nukes. We wouldn’t see NATO use any WMDs of its own.

Would nuking a city change the dynamic? Yeah, I think so.

There’s no neutralizing Russia’s nukes. They have 6,000 nukes, deterrence is the only defense. Ideally someone in Russia realizes that with Putin in charge their chance of dying a violent death is very high, and Putin gets assassinated.

Past that, Ukraine would likely be abandoned along with any non-NATO country.

What advantage would they get?
They haven’t shown the inclination to use the copious amount of artillery and airpower they have, why would they turn around and start using nukes.

Yeah the entire point is to get a government friendly to Russia into power in the Ukraine which is why despite the invasion they haven’t been just randomly carpet bombing cities yet. If they nuke the Ukraine that whole idea of a “friendly” government collapses since nobody will work for them and Russia doesn’t have the manpower to effectively occupy all of the Ukraine.

I guess the question I was getting at was what line does Russia has to cross before the US and/or NATO decides that the mass killing of innocent people has to stop. I don’t think Russia needs to occupy Ukraine, they just need to subjugate them and install a puppet government that will be loyal to Putin. I think that’s all he really wanted in the first place.

Instead of killing Ukrainians a few dozen at a time like he is now, and losing just as many Russians in return, a tactical nuclear strike would kill thousands of innocent people along with Ukraine’s military in an instant and Ukraine couldn’t do anything about it. That would speed up Russia’s timetable, but it crosses the nuclear line.

From what I am hearing it doesn’t matter what Putin does to Ukraine since we have told him repeatedly that the West will not intervene and fight for Ukraine. Ukraine is on its own militarily. I assume that means we would stand by and watch Ukraine be totally annihilated, even by tactical nukes, and will do nothing other than provide humanitarian supplies and advanced conventional weapons. That tells me Ukraine is doomed to be destroyed since Russia has no incentive to stop its aggression, and Ukraine will fight on until the last man. Sure, carpet bombing would achieve the same effect, but tactical nukes would get there much faster, and people can hide from a bombing attack a lot better than they can a nuclear attack.

As far as Putin being assassinated, whether by a close confidant or an oligarch, anyone who even tries to take him down can expect his entire family to suddenly disappear never to be seen again if even the smallest inkling of an assassination plot was suspected. Who would be willing to take that risk?

Exactly. I don’t see this as a possibility.

However, to not fight the hypothetical, IF Russia nuked Kyiv I think they would become a pariah state that no one, probably not even the Chinese would want to do business with. They would become the North Korea of Europe and Central Asia, with even their friends probably wanting to keep their distance between them. But would NATO/US go to war to neutralize them? Not a chance. Simply, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is too big for the US or NATO to contemplate war with Russia, especially when a highly unstable leader of Russia resorts to the use of nukes for such a reason as you are laying out. That’s not close to a rational reason, in fact, it would show Putin is pretty much insane.

What the US and others MIGHT do is try and destabilize Putin by appealing to his generals and oligarchs to take him down or not follow his orders to push Russia further off the edge. Of course, IMHO, those same people would have stepped in before following Putin’s orders to nuke a city simply because Putin wanted them to.

I didn’t suggest we should nuke Moscow in response to Russia nuking Kyiv, just that we could use whatever means necessary to force Russia out of Ukraine. And again, what I am hearing is that it doesn’t matter what genocide happens in Ukraine, we will steadfastly standby, watch, and do nothing militarily to save Ukraine if that’s what it takes for Russia to win. I think Russia knows the West is powerless and will do whatever it needs to subjugate Ukraine. I wonder what ex-Soviet country will be next.

Any use by NATO of nuclear weapons, or even offensive operations using conventional forces against Russia due to their nuking Kyiv is going to almost certainly escalate the conflict to nukes in fairly short order. If Putin is willing to nuke a city of nearly 3 million because his campaign isn’t going well, he’s going to be willing to push that further if he’s confronted. He will already have shown he’s unstable, after all, simply by doing what you are proposing in your OP (which is why many have pointed out that it’s very, very unlikely).

Nothing military to save the Ukrainians, no. We aren’t going to do that. And, frankly, it would be a bad idea for us to do that, as it would open the world up to complete destruction. What can be done is being done. And this includes if Russia nukes Kyiv or another Ukrainian city.

Of course, by doing so the Russian economy would cease to exist at least wrt external inputs. It would be completely on its own. Even if China or any other country decided to buck the entire rest of the world on this I think they would start to get equally hammered with massive sanctions. If Russia does something like that no one else will be allowed to trade with them, and anyone trying is going to be economically hammered in turn until they stop. And it probably won’t be necessary…China, the one most likely to step up and help Russia currently with mitigation of the sanctions does not want anything like the use of nukes and would completely turn on Russia if that happened. India, Russia’s other partner on the economic side is already on the fence about this…they, too, would rapidly turn on Russia and that would be it for their relationship. This would probably cement India into the western sphere from then on.

While I see your point, I think people are underestimating how Russia can survive on its own for quite a while without trading with anyone. It’s the largest country in the world geographically, and while not the richest, it can probably feed its population and has more natural resources than any other country.

I don’t think anyone can predict what India or China will do if Russia annihilates Ukraine, given the pressure the rest of the world would put on them, but both are nuclear powers and if they decided to side with Russia and continue trading with them, don’t forget China and Russia share a border, I don’t see what the rest of the world could really do about it. Sanctions and isolation can only go so far.

I’d venture a guess that there are two things that could get NATO involved:

  • WMDs, including non-nuclear ones - such as Russia using sarin or some chemical weapon;
  • a siege of Kyiv that puts millions at risk of death by starvation.

Both of those would be invoked on humanitarian grounds.

Feeding their population only puts it ahead of North Korea. I think you are vastly overstating how independent they could be on their own with very little outside trade. Today, Russia imports a lot of the things it needs for a high-tech society and military as well as a lot of other things. Could they survive without them? Maybe. But their people are not going to be happy about that, and, unlike in North Korea, the Russian people aren’t completely under the thumb of the regime…nor are they as cowed or broken as the North Koreans. I don’t see Putin et al surviving such drastic measures, and don’t see the Russian people stoically enduring the privation such levels of sanctions and worldwide censure would entail. They just aren’t that into Putin’s war, and while I’m sure many of them buy into the whole ‘it’s all the wests faulty’ line both their government and media are pushing, to date Russia doesn’t have the same level of a great firewall as China…and even in China it’s questionable how completely the population buys the bullshit.

We are talking about the unprovoked use of nuclear weapons. Sorry, but I think we can speculate with some degree of certainty what both China and India, especially India, would do, as well as what the rest of the world would do. I don’t think you really are understanding the level of the line that would be crossed if Russia nuked a Ukrainian city, or any other city, unprovoked.

While I’m on your side, I think most people think there’s nothing Putin can do to Ukraine that would trigger getting NATO involved beyond providing humanitarian supplies, and that once NATO gets involved militarily, it’s WWIII. I don’t see it that way. Time will tell.

The use of nukes so close to NATO territory so as to expose them to fallout could be taken as an act of war. NATO could up the ante with a physical blockade of shipping and let the Russians waste resources protecting shipping.

Wouldn’t nukes used against population centers be strategic, rather than tactical? My understanding (which could be wrong) is that tactical nukes – also called “battlefield” nukes – are smaller, delivered from shorter range and designed to wipe out military positions.

I’d like to think the world would retaliate with extreme prejudice if Putin nuked a Ukrainian city full of civilians (even at the risk of triggering WWIII), but I’m less sure about the use of tactical nukes.

I think it will depend on political public opinion, too. If Russia’s actions get to the point where an overwhelming majority of Americans favor direct intervention, such as a no-fly zone, then it would be hard for Biden not to do so, even though we’re only in a midterm, not presidential, election year.

In terms of response would there be and should there be a different response to a thermobaric attack of 30 to 40 tons force equivalent destroying multiple city blocks and killing multiple thousands, and a tactical nuke of the same force and effect, and a barrage of other “ conventional” weapons of the same total destructive impact?

Forget about alliances, and just assume that every country in the world acts purely in their own cynical realpolitik best interest. You’d STILL see every nation in the world declare war on Russia, and anyone with nukes and the ability to deliver them to Russia would do so. A Putin who’s willing to nuke Kyiv is a Putin who’s willing to nuke other places, too, and a nation who’s willing to pre-emptively nuke is a nation that nobody can afford to allow to continue to exist.

There is a difference, I think. The destructive power might be similar, but with a nuclear weapon, you make the area uninhabitable for humans for a long time. Conventional weapons destroy things, but they don’t make the area uninhabitable. Does that make a difference? Should it make a difference?

How long do you think is a long time? I mean, the only cities ever hit with atomic weapons weren’t rendered uninhabitable for very long. I don’t remember exactly what the timing is, but IIRC it’s a couple of weeks until it’s fairly safe to travel around in the area. It’s not going to be like in the Fallout games where the radiation hangs around for centuries.

I think, psychologically, crossing the nuclear threshold would be seen as worse, even if the number of deaths and destruction were roughly similar. But either would probably make Russia a pariah state that no one would want to interact with. I don’t see anyone going to war with Russia over this, as I think that would basically be the end of the world, but I can see everyone cutting Russia off from all ties if they crossed that line.