Ukraine war: Could Russia use tactical nuclear weapons?

russian soldier with Iskander missile

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said he’s ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, raising the fear he might use a small, or “tactical” nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden has warned him that doing so would be the most serious military escalation since World War II.

What are tactical nuclear weapons?

Tactical nuclear weapons are small nuclear warheads and delivery systems intended for use on the battlefield, or for a limited strike.

They are designed to destroy enemy targets in a specific area without causing widespread radioactive fallout.

The smallest tactical nuclear weapons can be one kiloton or less (producing the equivalent to a thousand tonnes of the explosive TNT). The largest ones can be as big as 100 kilotons.

Strategic nuclear weapons are larger (up to 1,000 kilotons) and are launched from longer range.

By comparison, the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was 15 kilotons.

What tactical nuclear weapons does Russia have?

According to US intelligence, Russia has about about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons.

Its tactical nuclear warheads can be placed on various types of missiles which are normally used to deliver conventional explosives, such as cruise missiles and artillery shells.

Tactical nuclear weapons can also be fired from aircraft and ships – as anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and depth charges.

The US says Russia has recently been investing heavily in these weapons to improve their range and accuracy.

Have tactical nuclear weapons ever been used before?

Tactical nuclear weapons have never been used in conflict.

Nuclear powers such as the US and Russia have found it equally effective to destroy targets on the battlefield by using modern conventional munitions.

In addition, no nuclear-armed country has so far been willing to risk unleashing all-out nuclear war by employing tactical nuclear weapons.

However, Russia might be more willing to use smaller tactical weapons than larger strategic missiles.

“They might not see it as crossing this big nuclear threshold,” says Dr Patricia Lewis, head of the international security programme at the Chatham House think tank.

“They could see it as part of their conventional forces.”

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 15, 2020: The first upgraded 203 mm 2S7M Malka self-propelled artillery vehicle delivered by Uraltransmash (a subsidiary of Uralvagonzavod, part of the Rostec State Corporation) to the Russian Defence Ministry. The modernised model shows better performance thanks to a new running gear and improved electronics. Rostec Press Office/TASS (Photo by Rostec Press Office\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian forces can fire small nuclear warheads using conventional artillery, such as the “Malka” self-propelled gun

Are Putin’s nuclear threats a real cause to worry?

In February 2022, shortly before invading Ukraine, President Putin placed Russia’s nuclear forces at “special combat readiness” and held high-profile nuclear drills.

More recently, he said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without a doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

Russia is planning to annex the regions of southern and eastern Ukraine it has occupied after holding self-styled referendums. President Putin says he is ready to defend the “territorial integrity” of the regions “by all means.”

US intelligence see this as a threat to the West not to help Ukraine try and retake these territories, rather than as a sign that he is planning a nuclear war.

But others worry that Russia, if it suffers further setbacks, might be tempted to use a smaller tactical weapon in Ukraine as a “game changer”, to break a stalemate or avoid defeat.

James Acton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Pace in Washington DC, says: “I am legitimately worried that in that circumstance, Putin might use a nuclear weapon – most likely on the ground in Ukraine to terrify everyone and get his way. We are not at that point yet.”

How has the US responded?

US President Joe Biden has warned Russia not to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

Speaking during an interview with CBS News, Mr Biden said such action would “change the face of war unlike anything since World War Two,” adding: “It’ll be consequential.”

How the US and Nato would respond to any nuclear use is hard to predict. They may not want to escalate the situation further and risk all-out nuclear war but they also might want to draw a line.

However, Russia might also be deterred from using tactical nuclear weapons by another power – China.

“Russia is heavily dependent on Chinese support,” says Dr Heather Williams, nuclear expert at Kings College London.

“But China has a ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine. So if Putin did use them, it would be incredibly difficult for China to stand by him.

“If he used them, he would probably lose China.”

BBC

Russian Flagship Battlecruiser Moskva Sunk

A Russian warship that was damaged by an explosion on Wednesday has sunk, Russia’s defence ministry has said.

Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, was being towed to port when “stormy seas” caused it to sink, according to a ministry message.

The 510-crew vessel was an important symbolic and military target, and has led Russia’s naval assault on Ukraine.

Ukraine claims it struck the warship with its missiles, but Russia has made no mention of an attack.

Late on Thursday, however, Russian state media broke the news that the ship had been lost.

“While being towed … towards the destined port, the vessel lost its balance due to damage sustained in the hull as fire broke out after ammunition exploded. Given the choppy seas, the vessel sank,” state news agency Tass quoted the ministry as saying.

Earlier, Russia had said there was a fire on board after ammunition exploded.

Ukrainian military officials said they struck the Moskva with a Ukrainian-made Neptune missile – a weapon designed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the naval threat to Ukraine in the Black Sea grew.

Earlier in the conflict the Moskva gained notoriety after calling on Ukrainian border troops defending Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender – to which they memorably radioed a message of refusal which loosely translates as “go to hell”.

Originally built in Ukraine in the Soviet-era, the Moskva entered service in the early 1980s according to Russian media.

The missile cruiser was previously deployed by Moscow in the Syria conflict where it supplied Russian forces in the country with naval protection.

It carries over a dozen Vulkan anti-ship missiles and an array of anti-submarine and mine-torpedo weapons, the reports said.

The Moskva is the second major Russian ship known to have been severely damaged since the invasion began.

Namesake Glory (1979–2000), Moscow (2000–2022)
Builder 61 Kommunara Shipbuilding Plant (SY 445), Nikolayev, Soviet Union
Laid down 1976
Launched 1979
Commissioned 30 January 1983
Decommissioned September 1990
Reinstated April 2000
Identification 121
Fate Sunk on 14 April 2022, responsibility disputed[1]
Notes Flagship of the Black Sea Fleet

Kyiv calling: famous Clash anthem reborn as call to arms

Ukrainian punk band Beton win blessing of the Clash to record new version of song to raise funds for support network

Bohdan Hrynko, Oleg Hula and Andriy Zholob of Beton are now playing a part in the war effort.

Bohdan Hrynko, Oleg Hula and Andriy Zholob of Beton are now playing a part in the war effort. Photograph: @betonbanda/Instagram

The Clash have given their blessing to a new version of their song London Calling by a Ukrainian punk band called Beton. Kyiv Calling, recorded near the frontline, has lyrics that call upon the rest of the world to support the defence of the country from Russian invaders.

All proceeds of what is now billed as a “war anthem” will go to the Free Ukraine Resistance Movement (FURM) to help fund a shared communications system that will alert the population to threats and lobby for international support.

‘Russian Rhapsody’ Crazy Merrie Melodies Anti-Hitler Propaganda Cartoon  

Depictions of Russia in American propaganda had some wild vacillation before the Cold War. The first Red Scare followed the Russian Revolution, and anti-communist sentiment really found purchase around 1919. Leftists in the US (many of them immigrants) became a force to be reckoned with, and bitter labor conflicts (plus some radical terrorism) seemed to suggest a Bolshevik revolution was imminent in the Americas. There’s the period however, during World War II, before Truman decided to wave his nuclear dick at Stalin, when Russians were still our Nazi-fighting Allies, and 1944’s Merrie Melodies production “Russian Rhapsody” is a fascinating artifact of that ambivalence America had towards the Soviets.

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Of course, the cartoon doesn’t quite portray Russians as “dignified.” Rather than some cartoon-friendly version of Red Army soldiers fighting Nazis in the snow, they’re literal “gremlins”—tiny things that are only really capable of sabotaging a plane. (The title was originally “Gremlins from the Kremlin,” but Disney was developing an animated version of Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins at the time and Roy Disney pressured Warner Brothers to change the name.) Regardless, the gremlins are clearly the good guys, whipping out a mask of Stalin to frighten Der Führer.

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In addition to being a really beautiful (and profoundly weird) piece of animation, “Russian Rhapsody” has some great dog whistles. The cartoon starts out with Hitler delivering a speech that’s a direct reference to a scene from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. As an inside joke, some of the gibberish German Hitler spouts is actually the names of animators and studio staff. The gremlin faces are actually based on caricatures of Warner Brothers legends like Chuck Jones, Robert Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Leon Schlesinger. The berserk musical score was provided by the great cartoon composer Carl Stalling.

Vladimir Putin’s War Room makes Dr. Strangelove War Room look Puny

Vladimir Putin’s massive, triple-decker war room.

war room

MOSCOW — “Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the war room!”

It could have been a scene straight out of “Dr. Strangelove” when President Vladimir V. Putin stepped into the Russian Ministry of Defense’s brand new, three-tiered, multibillion-dollar control center this week, for a war briefing that had its fair share of movie-like pageantry.

On movie-theater-size screens, live broadcasts showed long-range strategic bombers taking off from Russian air bases to fly sorties over Syria. Putin instructed commanders in Syria to “make contact with the French and work with them as allies” as Russia seeks a central role in a proposed anti-terrorist coalition.

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But the real star of the show may have been the building itself, which is designed to be a new nerve center for the Russian military that will coordinate military action around the world, including ballistic missile launches and strategic nuclear deployments.

The building is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. National Military Command Center used by the Pentagon, but as one Russian state news agency noted in a breathless headline this week, “Russian Defense Data Center Outperforms US Facility Threefold: Official.”

The center, which is fortified and said to sit on top of a maze of underground tunnels, is on the Frunze Naberezhnaya on the left bank of the Moscow river, a little over two miles from Red Square.

room

It was finished in 2014 and is part of a massive, decade-long modernization of Russia’s army, which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but has also produced noted improvements, from the expertise of Russian troops deployed during the Crimea operation to the recent cruise missile strikes launched from the Caspian Sea.

The new national defense center also includes a helicopter pad that was deployed on the Moscow River late last year and can accommodate Russia’s Mi-8 transport helicopter. In case of a war, it would be the country’s premier communications center, and one Russian commander compared it to the military headquarters of the Soviet Union during World War II.

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Another room with a large round table and more giant monitors.

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Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said that the center is a step toward “forming a single information space for solving tasks in the interests of the country’s defense.”

As Worldviews noted during Russia’s International Army Games in August, Russia’s military has sought to raise its public profile through savvy media branding.

At the briefing, army personnel sat in color-coded rows with matching headsets and water bottles bearing the Russian army brand (their flagship store recently opened on Tverskaya Street here, Moscow’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue). The briefing was covered on Russian national television from at least four distinct camera angles.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a reporter who has covered Putin for the past 15 years and is known for his lyrical, fawning reports of the Russian president, waxed introspective as he covered the briefing Tuesday.

“When this building and this room were opened a year ago, I was somewhat perplexed: Yes, it all looks very persuasive, and the Pentagon might even only dream of something like this, if only in a nightmare. But why? Who will need these screens the size of small soccer fields with grandstands for viewers?

war room3a

“And here was the answer. Every spot was filled. Russia’s entire high army command were the viewers. Or was it like the warming bench, and at any moment everyone was ready to go on the field …”

Later in the piece, he added: “My soul of course was not filled with delight and trembling at the hellish power of this armada. But I was perturbed, yes, I was.”

The War Rooms from the movies take a backseat to this giant high-tech cavern.

Dr. Strangelove

war room7 strangelove

WarGames 1983

war room6 wargames

‘You Only Live Twice”, James Bond.

war room8 you only live twice

Korean soldier reluctantly fought for the Japanese, the Russians and the Germans in WWII! 

Talk about getting passed around.

Yang Kyoungjong (c. 1920 – April 7, 1992) was a Korean soldier who fought during World War II in the Imperial Japanese Army, the Soviet Red Army, and later the German Wehrmacht.

In 1938, at the age of 18, Yang was in Manchuria when he was conscripted into the Kwantung Army of the Imperial Japanese Army to fight against the Soviet Union. At the time Korea was ruled by Japan. During the Battles of Khalkhin Gol, he was captured by the Soviet Red Army and sent to a labour camp. Because of the manpower shortages faced by the Soviets in its fight against Nazi Germany, in 1942 he was pressed into fighting in the Red Army along with thousands of other prisoners, and was sent to the European eastern front.

In 1943, he was captured by Wehrmacht soldiers in Ukraine during the Third Battle of Kharkov, and was then pressed into fighting for Germany. Yang was sent to Occupied France to fight in a battalion of Soviet prisoners of war known as the “Eastern Battalion”, serving in a battalion located on the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy, located close to Utah Beach. After the D-Day landings in northern France by the Allied forces, Yang was captured by paratroopers of the United States Army in June 1944. The Americans initially believed him to be Japanese in German uniform, and he was placed in a prisoner-of-war camp in the United Kingdom. At the time, Lieutenant Robert Brewer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, reported that his regiment captured four Asians in German uniform after the Utah Beach landings, and that initially no one was able to communicate with them. Yang later emigrated from Russia to the United States, where he lived until he died in Illinois in 1992.

army

Yang Kyongjong (left) in Wehrmacht attire following capture by American paratroopers in June 1944 after D-Day__

DiedApril 7, 1992 Illinois, United States
Allegiance Empire of Japan  Soviet Union  Nazi Germany
Years of serviceImperial Japanese Army: 1938–1939 Soviet Red Army: 1942–1943 Wehrmacht: 1943–1944
Battles/warsBattles of Khalkhin Gol Battle of Kharkov D-Day