Russia’s threats of nuclear strikes to protect the lands it annexed from Ukraine, and to keep Kherson now in its hands, appear to be ineffective. Dramatically, Moscow announced the complete withdrawal of its forces from strategic Kherson in southern Ukraine, with the Russian Defense Ministry saying that all troops and equipment had been moved to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
Are Russia’s nuclear threats proven to be a failure?
Analysts believe that Russia’s announcement, and its Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, to evacuate Kherson, that the catastrophic Russian war in Ukraine is going very badly for the Kremlin, and that the idea of using nuclear weapons is not practical.
After President Vladimir Putin declared Kherson to be “forever Russian”, said John Erath, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the US forces now appear to be withdrawing to avoid further losses. and its weak potential.
According to Errath, this loss represents Russia’s “worst military defeat” since the Afghanistan war, as well as a form of “military humiliation” for Russian forces. It is now clear that the recruitment of 300,000 reservists did little to shift the battlefield to Moscow’s favor, other than to waste lives needlessly.
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The war exposed the main weaknesses of the Russian army
It is also clear that Russia’s much-touted military modernization over the past decade, combined with billions of rubles in additional spending, and nuclear and ballistic missile tests, has done little to address the Russian military’s systemic weaknesses exposed by this disastrous war.
More importantly, according to Erath, the recent turn of events along the Dnipro River has demonstrated the utter lack of utility of nuclear weapons.
According to the arms control center, Russia possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and all non-strategic or “battlefield” nuclear weapons.
However, possessing all of these weapons did not prevent a military disaster for the army, and may even have contributed to it as Putin has stated in the past that modernizing nuclear forces, rather than conventional forces, was a top defense priority for Russia.
Erath cites that, given the weight of the blow to Russian military prestige in Ukraine, it is possible that if the Moscow General Staff believed that the use of nuclear weapons would make a difference on the battlefield, they would have already recommended it.
Why did Russia not use its nuclear weapons in Ukraine?
According to the American “National Interest” magazine, it can be considered that Russia has not resorted to the use of nuclear weapons until now, as an indication that these weapons are not seen as providing a useful capability for Russian forces on the ground.
It is also possible that the Kremlin has seen that the costs of using nuclear weapons, in terms of additional sanctions and more isolation, outweighed any other potential gains. And the most important point is that Russia’s nuclear power has not been able to avoid defeat.
According to a report published by the American “Wall Street Journal” last week, US officials said that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had “secret conversations” with top aides of Russian President Putin, in an attempt to reduce the risk of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and to warn Moscow From the consequences of resorting to nuclear or biological weapons.
Those officials said secret talks over recent months between Sullivan, his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, the Russian Security Council’s secretary, and Yuri Ushakov, the Russian president’s aide, were aimed at reducing the risks of nuclear escalation and keeping channels open, not discussing a settlement of the war.
When Putin and his top aides hinted last September that Russia might use nuclear weapons if its forces were cornered, Sullivan said the Biden administration had “communicated directly, covertly and at very high levels with the Kremlin and delivered an important message that any use by Russia of nuclear weapons It will make Moscow face dire consequences.” This may be what prompted Moscow so far to retreat from these threats and prefer withdrawing in Kherson.
The advantages of nuclear weapons do not match the costs
John Erath says that while Russia has effectively deterred the West from supplying Ukraine with more advanced weapons such as long-range missiles or modern aircraft, Russia’s tacit threat to defend recently annexed territories, including Kherson, has proven useless. Russia’s “diplomatic” tactics and nuclear threats did not succeed in keeping Kherson in Russian hands for at least much longer.
If this pattern continues, and Putin’s efforts to use nuclear blackmail as a tool to achieve policy goals fail, it will remove the emerging justification for acquiring nuclear weapons and highlight that any advantages such weapons might have do not match the costs.
And if nuclear weapons are incapable of preventing military defeat, do nuclear powers need more of them? At a minimum, according to Errath, governments should discuss eliminating battlefield weapons now that they have proven to be irrelevant. Good gun control is no easy feat, but drawing the right lessons from the tragedy in Ukraine can put it back on track.