How The West Became Less Anxious About Russia’s Nuclear Threat

Despite sabre-rattling US and allies believe deploying such weapons would be too risky for Moscow

“Just one launch, Boris, and England is gone,” said a broadcaster on Russian state television earlier this week, standing in front of a simulation of Britain and Ireland being wiped out by a nuclear weapon.

The alarming clip, which was circulated widely on social media, was swiftly criticised in the west as hyperbolic and provocative.

It was the latest instance of escalating Russian rhetoric over the possibility that Moscow could deploy nuclear weapons in retaliation for the west’s support for Ukraine. In February, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin unnerved the world when he put his nuclear forces on high alert, a move that signalled an apparent readiness to deploy them.

Last week, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Russian state television: “The danger [of a Russian nuclear strike] is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it.”

Despite the sabre-rattling, not to mention Russia’s possession of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, hardly any western intelligence officials or analysts think Moscow would carry out the kind of cataclysmic strike depicted by the broadcaster this week. The real question is whether Putin might resort to using smaller so-called tactical nuclear weapons to gain an advantage on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” said CIA director Bill Burns last month.

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