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Vladimir Putin softens nuclear rhetoric on Ukraine

Is Russian President Vladimir Putin moving away from nuclear power?

After weeks of atomic doomsday insinuations, Russia issued a bland statement on Wednesday reaffirming its longstanding policy on the use of nuclear weapons – a possible sign that the Kremlin is trying to cool the escalating rhetoric it has employed throughout October.

“Russia is strictly and consistently guided by the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” according to the statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.

The statement added that Russia’s nuclear doctrine was unambiguous and did not allow for “broad interpretation”, indicating that Moscow may try to backtrack on a number of statements challenging this doctrine.

The statement also included a call for talks on the kinds of “security guarantees” Russia had demanded from NATO before invading Ukraine in February.

Measured reaffirmation of Russia’s longstanding policy – with up to 6,000 warheads at its disposal, Moscow’s nuclear arsenal is second only to that of the United States – stands in stark contrast to increasingly threatening comments on their use in Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces have been on their back foot.

A woman stands next to the remains of a residential building that was destroyed by a Russian missile in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on Tuesday.Carl Court/Getty Images

Throughout October, Russian state television hosts – and even some officials, such as former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev – openly called for the use of nuclear weapons to defend four regions of Recently claimed Ukraines: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told NBC News on Wednesday that the United States “continues to monitor this as best we can, and we see no indication that Russia is preparing for such use.”

Russian military leaders discussed in October the possible use of nuclear warheads and the conditions under which they would be acceptable, according to two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to s express publicly.

Although this is not the first time that the United States has become aware of such conversations between Russian military or civilian leaders, the United States at the time was already at a heightened level of tension regarding the use of Russian nuclear. because of President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric, they said.

Concerns about Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine have recently eased, the sources said.

“We are in a better position now than a month ago,” said one.

Putin himself has given mixed signals on the issue of Russia’s nuclear use threshold. After signing documents integrating the four eastern Ukrainian regions into the Russian Federation, Putin said that Russia would use all means at its disposal to defend them.

Although not explicit, he referred to the US use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of World War II as setting a precedent – directly fueling fears that the Kremlin is considering their use. to ensure victory in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin softens nuclear rhetoric on Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

On October 1, the leader of the Chechen Republic of Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov, presented the idea perhaps more candidly than anyone in the country as he tried to struggle and find solutions to Russia’s declining fortunes. on the battlefield.

“In my opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

The weeks that followed saw a flurry of accusations from Moscow that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a so-called dirty bomb containing radioactive material on its own territory in hopes of trapping Russia.

On October 21, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke by telephone for the first time in months. During that call, Shoigu warned his American counterpart about the alleged Ukrainian dirty bomb plot.

The claim, made without evidence, was quickly dismissed as the latest in a series of efforts to lay the groundwork for a false flag operation, in which Russia would stage an attack and then blame Ukraine for it.

On the other side of last month’s saber-rattling, a chorus of Western leaders hit back at Moscow, assuring them that any use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine on any scale would bring a devastating response.

Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote on Twitter that despite all the troubling talk from Moscow about nuclear weapons, the Kremlin is unlikely to actually use them because of this Western message.

“If Putin is unlikely to use nuclear weapons, it is because he is deterred by fear of escalation, including nuclear. For deterrence to work, it must be made known that the use of nuclear power would be very dangerous”, he wrote.

Just hours after Russia’s Defense Ministry announced a sharp U-turn on a weekend decision to suspend participation in the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, the timing of Wednesday’s statement reiterating Russia’s nuclear policy was remarkable.

For two days, civilian-flag cargo ships loaded with Ukrainian grain exports were forced to suspend their scheduled transits from Black Sea ports to destinations in Africa, where the United Nations has warned of intense food insecurity. caused by the conflict.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to take credit for bringing the Russians back to the deal.

Commenting on Russia’s swift U-turn on the grain initiative, Mikhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on Twitter that there was a clear lesson to be learned.

“A ‘singer’ with Russian roots is inferior to those who are stronger and know how to clearly assert their position. The way to ‘pacify’ the aggressor is through a reasonable show of force,” he said, referring to deterrence.


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