Will Russia use tactical nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine?

Will Russia use tactical nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine?
FILE PHOTO: Cars are on fire after Russia’s missile attack in Kyiv, Ukraine October 10, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Lately, the threat of nuclear war seems closer than ever. In August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation," referring to the Ukraine war and nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East. In a future nuclear attack, a tactical nuclear weapon would probably be used. A tactical nuclear weapon (or “non-strategic weapon") can also be called a “small nuke," but its destruction is still massive. Rather than fired from a distance at large targets, these weapons are used for defined strikes against closer, more specific targets.

Earlier this month, Russian President Putin said he’s not afraid to use nuclear weapons. And recently, North Korea’s military exercises have included tactical nuclear drills. Now, tactical nuclear weapons are being developed in a way not seen since the Cold War – and their use is a much-debated topic. Last week, US President Biden warned that Putin using nuclear weapons could lead to “Armaggedon." Still, the debate continues, especially in South Korea, which is considering redeploying American tactical nuclear weapons or pursuing its own nuclear program in response to North Korea’s nuclear displays.

Key comments:

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon," said US President Biden about Russia’s use of the weapons could get out of control.

“Tactical nuclear warheads were created to give military commanders more flexibility on the battlefield. In the mid-1950s, as more powerful thermonuclear bombs were being built and tested, military planners thought smaller weapons with a shorter range would be more useful in ‘tactical’ situations," said Al Jazeera’s defense analyst Alex Gatopoulos.

Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that the US could assassinate Putin if he used nuclear weapons. “I don’t agree that we can’t get him and I think he knows that. You can ask Qasem Soleimani in Iran what happens when we decide somebody is a threat to the US," he said in an interview with UK radio station LBC News.

“If its territorial integrity is threatened Russia will use all the means at its disposal," said Russian President Putin in a September speech. “This is not a bluff."