Russia, Nuclear Threats

Dmitri A. Medvedev, a former Russian president and the hawkish vice chairman of Mr. Putin’s Security Council, laid out that thesis this past week in a post on the Telegram social network. If Russia were forced to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, he argued, it was unlikely that NATO would intervene militarily because of the risk that a direct attack on Russia could lead to all-out nuclear war.

putin “has insistedthat in the event of a nuclear war, “we would go to paradise as martyrs, while they would simply perish.”

The chance that Putin would strike out of the blue seems very low,” said Graham T. Allison, the author of a seminal 1971 book about the Cuban Missile Crisis, “Essence of Decision.” “But as Kennedy said back then, the plausible scenario is if a leader is forced to choose between a catastrophic humiliation and a roll of the dice that might yield success.”

Mr. Allison suspects Mr. Putin will not face that choice unless Ukraine succeeds in pushing Russian forces out of the areas Mr. Putin annexed on Friday.

For that reason, the next few weeks could prove a particularly dangerous time, a range of American and European officials agree. But Mr. Putin is not likely to use a nuclear weapon immediately. His initial steps, according to the officials, would probably involve a sabotage campaign in Europe, attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure or targeting senior officials in Kyiv. Some officials wonder if the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelinesmay have been a first step — though it is not clear Russia was behind that sabotage.

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