Russian state TV's 'nuclear sabre-rattling' analysed by experts

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NATO is on red alert and is set to launch a nuclear deterrence drill next week as fears that the Ukraine war will escalate into a nuclear conflict continue to soar. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made repeated threats that he is willing to draw from his nuclear arsenal, a 6,000-strong stockpile of warheads, ever since Russia first invaded its neighbouring country back in mid-February. But tensions have heated up in recent weeks, with the Russian President warning that he is “not bluffing” about being ready to “use of all weapon systems available to us” in the “event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country”. 

NATO appears to be taking the threat seriously and will next week hold its annual nuclear deterrence exercise to ensure that relevant personnel and equipment are prepared. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday: “This is routine training which happens every year to keep our deterrence safe, secure and effective.

“President Putin’s veiled nuclear threats are dangerous and irresponsible, Russia knows that a nuclear war can never be won and can never be fought.”

Known as “Steadfast Noon”, the exercise will involve 14 members of the military alliance, with nuclear-capable aircraft as well as additional capabilities like intelligence and refuelling planes. 

Mr Stoltenberg added: “We are closely monitoring Russia’s nuclear forces. We have not seen any changes in Russian nuclear posture but we remain vigilant.”

While NATO’s annual drill comes after Putin’s horror threat two weeks ago, a UK spy chief has claimed that there is “no indication” that Putin will in fact press the red button. Speaking to BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme on Tuesday, Sir Jeremy Fleming from QCHQ said: “It’s clear to me that whilst we might not like and in many ways abhor the ways the Russian military machine and President Putin are conducting this war, they are staying within the doctrine that we understand for their use, including for nuclear weapons.

“I’m sure Putin’s worried about the dangers of escalation. He thinks about those in different terms. But I think it is a sign that he has not reached for these other forms of waging war.”

However, this view appears to be at odds with that of other Western officials. For instance, US security advisor Lloyd Austin told CNN: “There are no checks on Mr Putin. He made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, he could make another decision.”

And some experts believe Putin is getting closer to launching a nuclear attack every day. Hamish de Bretton Gordon told Express.co.uk: “I think Putin is clinging on by his fingernails and will say anything to justify whatever he does to stave off defeat in Ukraine. Add this to the forced annexation of 4 regions and we are getting closer to when/where Putin thinks he can use nuclear weapons.”

This comes after Putin ordered a barrage of long-range missiles to rain down on 10 cities across Ukraine this week, including hitting captial city Kiev in a major escalation. Putin has said this is his response to the explosion on the bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Penninsula. 

Moscow has called this an “act of terrorism”, pointing the finger at Ukraine’s intelligence forces, although there has been no evidence to prove that this is the case. 

The head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, Alexander Bastrykin, said: “There is no doubt, this is an act of terrorism aimed at destroying Russia’s critical civilian infrastructure. Its authors, perpetrators and beneficiaries are the security services of Ukraine.”

Russia now appears to be targeting critical energy infrastructure and has killed civilians in the process. The “massive” long-range strikes have also sparked blackouts and forced thousands of residents to race into bomb shelters as air raid sirens sounded across multiple cities. 

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But while these strikes have caused havoc, Putin is still yet to draw for his most powerful weapons. If the Russian President did decide to use a tactical nuclear weapon, US President Joe Biden has warned that this would result in “Armageddon”. 

He said: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. We’ve got a guy I know fairly well. 

“He’s not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming.”

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky does not appear to be intimidated, arguing that the “world will never forgive” if Putin did launch a nuclear strike. He said: “He [Putin] understands that after the use of nuclear weapons he would be unable anymore to preserve, so to speak, his life, and I’m confident of that.”

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