During an interview on Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Ukraine’s beleaguered president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned the world that Russian President Vladimir Putin may resort to the use of nuclear weapons in his ongoing war against the former Soviet republic.
He also warned that special measures need to be taken in his country to aid his people if such a terrible eventuality were to materialize, including the construction of air-raid shelters and stockpiling anti-radiation medicines.
“We should think not be afraid, not be afraid but be ready. But that is not a question for Ukraine, not only for Ukraine but for all the world, I think,” Zelenskyy said in the interview.
“We shouldn’t wait for the moment when Russia decides to use nuclear weapons…We must prepare for that,” he clarified in another interview with Ukrainian state media on Saturday. ”Anti-radiation medicine and air raid shelters would be needed.”
"They could do it … for them, life of the people is nothing" — Zelensky to Jake Tapper (in English) about the possibility of Putin using nuclear weapons pic.twitter.com/PS2zisJbli
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 17, 2022
The Ukrainian president’s dire warnings come amid a series of setbacks for the invading Russian forces in recent weeks. The Russian military failed to secure key offensive positions in and around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the early phase of the war, forcing it to withdraw from the city after a period of ferocious urban warfare. At the same time, the Russian Black Sea fleet lost its flagship, the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, which was apparently struck by Ukrainian missiles.
Russian forces have since regrouped, and appear to be planning a massive offensive against the eastern Donbas region—an area that has seen sporadic fighting between Ukrainian militias and Russia-backed separatists groups since 2014. But the threat of nuclear weapons is far from over.
“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” CIA Director William Burns said last Thursday, during a speech delivered at Georgia Tech University.
Meanwhile, former Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev indicated what conditions might cause Vladimir Putin to seriously consider the use of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons.
“They could be used, but in very, very specific situations,” he said in an interview with Fox News Digital. “If Russia or one of those countries [were] really threatened in their hearts—existentially, that is…if NATO troops come to Moscow, then probably they will resort to nuclear weapons.”
“But there is no existential threat to Russia under the present circumstances,” he added. Kozyrev maintains that Putin’s threats of nuclear escalation are more a case of bark than bite from the Russian leader, and stresses that as long as Putin and his regime stay in power, he will do nothing to threaten his position.
“The responsible military commanders will do everything to avoid such a scenario and to prevent the use of nuclear weapons unless they believe there is an existential threat to their motherland,” he said.
That seems to be, more or less, the consensus of other foreign policy experts as well. Brent Sadler, Senior Fellow of the Heritage Foundation, considers Putin’s use of a tactical nuke only likely in the eventuality Russian forces suffer an “overwhelming military defeat” in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
“That might be the case where a tactical nuclear weapon might be considered to demonstrate resolve and basically reverse any trends going on in the Russian military,” he explained to Fox News Digital. “I don’t see them using city killers, because that would definitely usher in World War III, and the assumption is if he does that he’s attacking NATO.”
“City killers” refers to strategic nuclear weapons—the high-yield ballistic missiles that threatened the globe with nuclear annihilation throughout the long years of the Cold War in the second half of the twentieth century. Tactical nukes, on the other hand, are of lower yield, and are considered more viable in battlefield situations without the risk of global apocalypse. They include such terrifying weapons as the so-called “neutron bomb,” designed for enhanced radiation lethality but less physical damage.
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