Seven and a half months after it began, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has not gone as the Kremlin had hoped. The Ukrainian military has resisted with skill and tenacity, in recent weeks clawing back territory in the country’s south and east. As the Russian invasion falters, concern has arisen that Putin might turn to nuclear weapons.
The nuclear threat needs to be taken seriously. Russia’s conventional forces appear stymied, the country has a large nuclear arsenal, and Putin thus far seems unwilling to lose or retreat. He has, if anything, doubled down, for example, ordering a mobilization and a sham annexation of Ukrainian territory. Moreover, Putin has made a string of miscalculations in launching and executing his war on Ukraine, and his comments have observers wondering if nuclear could be next. But there are reasons to believe Moscow would not press the nuclear button. Such use would not end the Ukrainian determination to resist. It would alienate countries such as China and India that have tried to remain on the sidelines of this war. Moreover, senior Russian political and military leaders understand that introducing nuclear weapons into the conflict would constitute a step into a murky and potentially disastrous unknown.
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