Putin Will Think Twice Before Nuking Ukraine
Russian president Vladimir Putin has repeatedly threatened Ukraine and its supporters with a nuclear attack that will settle the war he started on February 24, 2022. Some observers claim that the threat is a mere rhetorical trick, while others believe it is part of the Russian military doctrine to escalate a conflict, even by nuclear means, to bring the enemy to the negotiation table. A 2021 risk assessment study by Maj. Stephen Redmon, at the time enrolled in the U.S. Army Command’s School of Advanced Military Studies, warned that the Russian use of low-yield nuclear weapons is likely and the threat level is high. However, even if the Russian doctrine makes it possible, does a nuclear attack practically make sense? Will a nuclear bomb help Russia effectively end and win the war? And if so, in what way? The following four scenarios suggest that Russia would get far less from its nuclear threats even if it follows through on them.
1. Public demonstration. Blast a small yield bomb (<1-5kt) over the Black Sea to show the world that Russia is not bluffing.
2. Economic terror: Drop the bomb on a major economic objective, such as a dam, rail yard, or electric generation plant, to paralyze a large swath of the Ukrainian economy.
3. Tactical military use. Use a small yield (e.g., 20kt, the size of the Hiroshima bomb) bomb to break a hole in the frontline and relaunch the offensive or destroy a major military base or armament production facility.
4. Drop a medium-yield bomb (30 to 50kt) on Kyiv in a decapitation strike that would not only destroy the main transportation and communication hub of the nation but would also eliminate the political and military leadership of Ukraine.
Of the four, the last two appear more likely. But let us first examine the first two. A nuclear demonstration over the Black Sea would be the equivalent to provoking retaliation by NATO without accomplishing its objectives. Indeed, if Putin is not bluffing, the rational move is to prevent him from acting on his intentions. Doing otherwise would be foolish. Given this, Putin and his generals would do well not to use a demonstration explosion. Just like the United States did in 1945, if you are to use the dreadful bomb, be direct.