Putin's December 2021 Ultimatum
"The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters 14 April 2022. Guterres sounded the alarm over Russia raising the alert level for its nuclear forces after invading Ukraine, describing it as a "bone-chilling development."
NATO's entry into the conflict over Ukraine could turn into the beginning of a third world war, says European Council President Charles Michel. "We are doing our best not to aggravate the conflict," he argued. "Russia is a nuclear power, and we are well aware that if this conflict turns into a [conflict] between NATO and Russia, then we will come to a third world war."
In December 2021 Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin unleashed the most profound nuclear crisis since the Cuban Missile crisis six decades ago. He made an explicit nuclear threat on 25 February 2022 : “Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history. We are ready for any development. All decisions in that regard have been made.”
It is a bit difficult to figuring out Russian aimpoints. Doctrinally, if Putin thinks Ukraine is part of Russia, then NATO forces going into Ukraine would be a nuclear redline. And Putin might regard his impending demise as an attempt to "destroy Russia as a state." But once VVP decides to go nuclear, what is the aimpoint? Presumably, the intent is to "escalate to de-escalate", so probably it would be a demonstration. Probably not in NATO. Aimpoint in Ukraine would pose fallout and collateral damage concerns. So probably VVP nukes NATO warships in the Black Sea. No collateral, little fallout, enough NATO KIA to show he is serious, but not so horrific as to require lobbing the big one into the men's room in the Kremlin.
Putin created the tensest point in US-Russia relations since the Cold War ended three decades ago. In December 2021 Russia presented a sweeping set of demands including for a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to the alliance's activity in central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997. Russia’s proposal for ending the current crisis stipulates that the United States “not deploy land-based intermediate- and short-range missiles in areas allowing them to reach [Russian territory].” The urgency with which Moscow sought to have its proposals addressed — not a “menu of options” to choose from but a “package” — was even more stunning.
Russia not only delivered an ultimatum to the United States and NATO; it delivered an ultimatum to itself. Russia cannot afford to fail in this confrontation. To fail would show that Russia is weak, irresolute and incompetent. By setting out the demands so starkly, Putin was burning his bridges: There was thus no way back, short of unacceptable political humiliation (which is not Putin’s style).
Putin appeared to be acting as if Russia was in a position to rewrite the end of the Cold War. In her book “Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and With the Rest,” Angela Stent writes that the Russian leader wants the West “to treat Russia as if it were the Soviet Union” and to “renegotiate the end of the Cold War.” Russia doesn't want any NATO troops, weapons or exercises in Ukraine in the same way that JFK didn't want Soviet missiles in Cuba.
In October 2018, Putin, speaking at the plenary session of the Valdai Discussion Club, uttered a phrase about the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. “We have a nuclear missile warning system. When we are convinced that the attack is on Russian territory, we then strike back. Of course, this is a worldwide catastrophe, but we cannot be the initiators of the catastrophe. The aggressor must know that retribution is inevitable. Well, we, as martyrs, will go to heaven, and they will simply die, because they won’t even have time to repent,” he said then.
On 21 February 2022, Putin, during a meeting of the Russian Security Council, said that "We know that there have already been statements that Ukraine intends to create its own nuclear weapons. This is not mere bravado. Ukraine has a Soviet technological backlog. The situation in the world with the appearance of WMD in Ukraine will change dramatically.”
Putin, meeting with Members of the Valdai Discussion Club, remarked Oct 22, 2021 “what if tomorrow there are missiles near Kharkov — what should we do then? We do not go there with our missiles — but missiles are being brought to our doorstep. Of course, we have a problem here.... Has anyone even reacted to our statement that we will not deploy this kind of missile in the European part if we produce them, if they tell us that no one will do so from the United States or Europe? No. They never responded. But we are adults, we are all adults here. What should we do in this situation?” The distance between Kharkiv and Moscow is 650 kilometers (400 miles).
In December 1996, Nato allies declared they had “no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members” — the so-called “three no’s”. The Russians’ Plan B was probably not to invade Ukraine or bomb Estonia but to position their latest tactical and strategic weaponry in places that present to the United States and NATO the same existential threat and ultra-short warning times of attack that the U.S.-led encirclement of Russia presented to Moscow.
“If NATO opts for the policy of deterrence, we will respond with a policy of counter-deterrence,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said. “If it turns to intimidation, we will respond with counter-intimidation. If it looks for vulnerabilities in Russia’s defense system, we will look for NATO’s vulnerabilities. It’s not our choice, but we don’t have other options if we don’t overturn this current very dangerous course of events.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said 13 January 2022 that Moscow couldn’t exclude dispatching “military infrastructure” to Venezuela or Cuba if tensions with Washington continued to rise. “I don’t want to confirm anything, I will not rule out anything… Depends on the actions of our American colleagues,” Ryabkov told privately owned Russian-language television network RTVi. Russian President Vladimir Putin “has repeatedly spoken out, including on this topic, about what could be the measures taken by the Russian navy if things go completely in the direction of provoking Russia and further increasing military pressure on us,” said Rybakov.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov compared the situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war, consistent with the uncompromising line Russia signaled. Poland's foreign minister said in Vienna that Europe was closer to war than any time in the last 30 years and the U.S. envoy said the West should not give in to blackmail.
The sources of Putin's ultimatum were easy to understand, representing long-standing grievances against the post-Cold War situation of Russia. From Russia’s perspective, NATO’s claims that it is a purely defensive alliance ring hollow after its attacks on Yugoslavia and Libya.
The timing of the ultimatum was less apparentm. Putin’s demands for “security guarantees” from the United States and NATO caught many by surprise. Russia is a declining Great Power, with trends ranging from unfavorable demographics to global decarbonization all pointing to a future of diminished influence. Some observers had interpreted the American exit from Afghanistan as signaling the Biden administration's weakness. Germany faced the transition from Angela Merkel to a fragile tri-partite left coalition, while Britain was afflicted with post-Brexit woes and the shambolic Johnson premiership. Russia had seeminly formed and understanding with China to confront America with a challenge on two fronts, Taiwan and Ukraine. If not now, when?
Putin virtually invited Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping to support the Russian “ultimatum” vis-à-vis the United States and NATO. China was displeased with Washington “dragging” Europe into its China containment agenda. Putin on 15 December 2021 held a videocall with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Putin told Xi that "a new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries" that includes a "determination to turn our common border into a belt of eternal peace and good-neighbourliness". China's relationships with multiple Western allies had cratered in recent years over a host of issues.
Putin's Nuclear Crisis - December 2021
Russia's Foreign Ministry presented two comprehensive draft agreements on security guarantees between Russia, the United States and the NATO alliance on 17 December 2021. The two documents were written in the language of ultimatum, and seemed designed to be rejected. There was initially some ambiguity as to the Russian course of action when the ultimatum was rejected. Possibly this would entail a conventional ground forces offensive in Ukraine. Probablly this would include forward deployment of intermediate range missiles to Kaliningrad - a reprise of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"The Parties shall refrain from deploying their armed forces and armaments, including in the framework of international organisations, military alliances or coalitions, in areas where such deployment could be perceived by the other Party as a threat to national security, with the exception of such deployment within the national territories of the Parties," the document says. "The United States of America shall undertake to prevent further eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deny accession to the Alliance to the States of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics," the document adds. Such a commitment would impact Ukraine and Georgia, which have advanced security cooperation agreements with the US and NATO, and possibly the states of Central Asia, which have engaged in military cooperation with the US and hosted US bases in past decades.
The proposal further requires Russia and members of NATO as of 1997, before the bloc began its post-Cold War eastward expansion, not deploy troops and weapons to other European countries. The Russian security proposals also include a commitment by Russia and the US not to deploy ground-based missiles which were banned under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty "outside their national territories, as well as in areas of their national territories from which such weapons can attack targets in the national territory of the other Party".
Russia will engage in creating counter threats if NATO turns down the Russian proposals for security guarantees, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said 18 December 2021. "We are making clear that we are ready to talk about switching over from a military or a military-technical scenario to a political process" that will strengthen the security of all countries in the area of the OCSE, Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia, he said. "If that doesn’t work out, we signaled to them (NATO-TASS) that will also move over to creating counter threats, but it will then be too late to ask us why we made these decisions and why we deployed these systems." The Europeans must think about the prospect of turning the continent into a filed of military confrontation, he said.
Russia released draft agreements titled the Treaty Between the US and Russia on Security Guarantees and On Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The proposals were handed over to a US representative at a meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry on December 15.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called on NATO to start substantive talks to give Russia reliable and long-term security guarantees. The guarantees will need to be legally binding because, Putin said, the West had walked back on their previous verbal commitments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that hopes for a deal with Washington to limit NATO expansion in Eastern Europe are slim, arguing that even a signed agreement could be torn up by the American side at a moment’s notice. In a speech to his country’s most senior military officers on 21 December 2021, Putin said he no longer viewed the West as a dependable partner. Russia has been seeking written assurances about the presence of US troops and hardware near its borders, he said, but even those assurances could not be depended on.
“We need long-term legally binding guarantees. But you and I know them well. And that is something that cannot be trusted,” Putin went on, noting that the US “easily withdraws from international treaties that it becomes uninterested in,” apparently referencing Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the landmark Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. The accord, inked between the USSR and US in 1972, intended to limit both sides’ missile defense capabilities. “You and I both know very well: under various pretexts, including the purpose of ensuring their own security, that they act thousands of kilometers away from their national territory,” he said.
At the expanded meeting of the Defense Ministry board, Putin said "They [the US] simply do what they want. But what they are doing on the territory of Ukraine now, or trying to do and going to do — this is not thousands of kilometers away from our national border. This is at the doorstep of our home. They must understand that we simply have nowhere to retreat further".
"We have specialists here, we are in constant contact with them. There is no hypersonic weapon in the United States yet, but we know when it will appear — they cannot hide it, everything is recorded, the tests are being conducted, successfully or unsuccessfully. So we approximately understand when it will happen," the President added.
Putin also believes that if the US deploys its weapons in Ukraine, it may try under the cover of these weapons to push Kiev to attack Crimea. "They will put hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, and then, under their cover <...> they will arm and push extremists from the neighboring state against Russia, including into certain regions of the Russian Federation, for example, Crimea, under advantageous circumstances as they believe," the head of state went on. "Do they think we don’t see these threats? Or do they think that we are so weak-willed to simply look blanky at the threats posed to Russia? That is the problem: we simply have nowhere to move further, that’s the question," Putin said.
Dmitry Kiselev, the director general of the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, said on 20 December 2021 that the tense situation around Ukraine has the potential of escalating into a new Cuban missile crisis if the West fails to provide Russia with the security guarantees it has requested. In an interview with the BBC, Kiselev said that if Ukraine joins NATO or the alliance decides to advance its military infrastructure in Ukraine, Moscow "will hold a gun to America's head."
"Russia has the best weapons in the world – hypersonic ones. They'd reach America as fast as US or British weapons could reach Moscow from Ukraine. It would be the Cuban missile crisis all over again, but with a shorter flight time for the missiles," Kiselev told the media. When asked if Russia is ready "to use force to defend its red lines", Kiselev said "One hundred percent, because for Russia this is a question of life or death".
"Countries are either lucky or they're unlucky to be next to Russia. That's the historical reality. They can't change that. It's the same as Mexico. It's either lucky or not to be close to America… It would be good to harmonise our interests and not put Russia in a position where missiles could reach us in four minutes", Kiselev said. In the event of NATO failing to reach a consensus with Russia, Moscow is ready to "create a comparable, analogous threat by deploying its weapons close to decision-making centres", he noted.
The West is unlikely to accept Russia’s demands because doing so would be politically impossible. Under the documents, NATO cannot conduct military activities close to Russian borders, while Russia had the right to do what it sees fit on parts of its territory that border NATO. From the US and NATO’s perspective, that would mean capitulating to Moscow, which is politically unacceptable. Moreover, Washington and the EU countries see no reason why they should agree to overhaul the post-Cold War European security system.
The top Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the security proposals that Moscow has put forth in response to Western alarm over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine are a clear sign that Russia is “trying to create a pretext for war.” U.S. Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho) said in a statement on December 18 that Russia’s proposals are not security agreements, but a list of concessions the United States and NATO must make to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Russian Federation made these demands with the full understanding they are impossible to accept. These demands are contrary to not only the principles and spirit of the NATO treaty, but also the specific text of the agreement adopted by all 30 sovereign NATO countries. Russia is clearly trying to create a pretext for war. Putin knows the United States and our 29 NATO allies do not, and will not, negotiate away the future of sovereign nations, like Ukraine, that must be able to make their own choices."
"I find the West’s reaction to be somewhat surprising. On the one hand, they expect everything from Russia, but on the other, they are astonished to hear Russia use such harsh rhetoric. The sharp tone indicates that the time when Russia acted from a position of weakness and defense is over," Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine Fyodor Lukyanov told Izvestia.
Putin ordered two nuclear-capable long-range bombers to the Belarusian border.
Russia sent a pair of nuclear-capable long-range bombers over the skies of Belarus for patrolling on 18 December 2021. Reports said the mission, the third in a month, was intended to underline close defense ties between the two allies amid tensions with the West. A month earlier, the Russian defence ministry released video on 12 Noember 2021 of strategic bombers flying escorted by Belarusian jets. After the two Russian Tu-160 planes rehearsed bombing runs in a training exercise, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko had said he needed Russian nuclear-capable bombers to help him navigate a migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border. It was the second day running that Russia had sent strategic bomber planes to overfly Belarus in a show of support for its close ally Minsk.
Three U.S. B-52 strategic bombers completed a training flight in Ukrainian airspace on 04 September 2021. The mission was the first-ever of its kind. The bombers are based in the U.S. state of North Dakota but are part of a deployment of six B-52s to a Royal Air Force base in Fairford, England. More than 200 related missions had been conducted since the Bomber Task Force launched operations in the European theater two years ago. These ongoing bomber missions showcase the U.S. Air Force’s ability to continually execute flying missions, sustain readiness and support Allies and partners across Europe
Russia warned that it would redeploy medium-range nuclear weapons on the Western flank — in striking distance from central Europe — for the first time since they were banned in a 1987 agreement between presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. In February 2018 Russia claimed the right to put weapons anywhere it chose on its own territory after reports that the country had deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad drew criticism from its neighbors and NATO. Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, and the missiles would be able to reach large parts of NATO members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The Russian Institute for Standardization published GOST R 42.7.01-2021 "Urgent burial of corpses in time of war and peacetime" developed by the Federal State Budgetary Institution "All-Russian Research Institute for Civil Defense and Emergencies EMERCOM of Russia". It stated "Burial of the deceased with a high radioactive background. allowed on a specially designated area of ??the burial site in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, which regulates relations related to ensuring the radiation safety of the population."
On 18 December 2021, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko spoke with pro-Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Soloviev, who wore a crimson hoodie with a Soviet hammer and sickle emblem, about Putin’s ultimatum to the United States and NATO. In an circumstance of Soloviev’s display entitled “The Capitulation of NATO,” Grushko stated: “The moment of truth has come. We have reached a red line and our proposals aim to move us away from that red line and initiate normal dialogue that will put security interests first.”
Leonid Gozman wrote in Echo of Moscow on 19 December 2021 that "This is not just an ultimatum. This is a demand for complete and unconditional surrender. Russia has no political, economic or military resources to provide such an ultimatum. Russia does not offer any steps on its part - the West must admit that we have always been and remain right in everything, and admit defeat. All this pre-war hysteria does not even have anything like casus belly - no one killed the Archduke and no one from the West threatens us. We have no territorial claims, no one from the outside is trying to interfere with what is happening inside us. All this is from scratch!... There are probably people in the leadership of Russia who understand that this ultimatum cannot be accepted. This means that they have some kind of plan, ranging from nuclear war to the complete closure of the country and turning it into a large military (concentration) camp."
Gilbert Doctorow wrote: "If accepted in their present form, these treaties would represent a total capitulation by the United States over everything four successive administrations have tried to achieve to contain Russia and put it in a small cage at the periphery of Europe. The demands are so stunning in scope that we must ask why Russia is taking the seemingly enormous risk of advancing them, and doing so publicly. Moreover, why now? I have two explanations to advance: the first is the unshakable confidence that Vladimir Putin and his colleagues have in their present tactical advantage over the United States in the European theater of operations and strategic advantage over the United States on American home territory if push comes to shove.... the Russians are using the Chinese backing to scare the hell out of Washington, which might well assume that the Chinese will coordinate their own military actions against Taiwan, against the U.S. naval forces in the South China Sea and beyond to present the United States with an unwinnable two-front war while serving their own, Chinese, interests."
On 19 December 2021, News of the Week presenter Dmitry Kiselyov introduced: “Russia… prepared and handed over to the Americans written proposals on strategic stability or, more simply, the prevention of nuclear war, because we are already at a critical point, to be honest… It is very simple. The USA and NATO must withdraw from our borders, otherwise we will figuratively “gather” on their borders and create symmetrical, unacceptable dangers… If you place a gun to our heads, we are going to retort in kindly. The all level is that the evolution of Ukrainian territory, [Western] The bloc is not only Ukraine’s industry. This is the entire disruption of the worldwide equilibrium, which poses an existential risk to Russia. In different phrases, it’s a signify of life and dying for Russia… We are not going to permit this, no signify what it costs us....”
Notorious for his earlier assertion that Russia was the one nation able to decreasing the United States to a pile of radioactive ash, Kiselyov reconsidered his beloved “argument” to elucidate why the United States would breathe prepared to simply accept Putin’s implausible proffer. He claimed that Russia is able to endure any penalties and to stopgap to any means to get what it needs: “No one has published the texts of the proposed agreements before. But never before in the 21st century have the risks been so serious and the risks so great. Non-standard situations require non-standard approaches. Second, we hold very strong cards in our hands. Our hypersonic weapons are guaranteed to produce a reaction that is very unpleasant for America to hear: being reduced to radioactive ash.”
In the past years, Russian lawmakers, advocating the deployment of Russia’s advanced weapons systems in Cuba, Central America and elsewhere in the “coronary heart of the Americas”. These options will probably remain on Moscow’s menu. “We are considering deploying our nuclear weapons in Cuba or Venezuela,” state television presenter Olga Skabeeva said on 21 December 2021.
Rumors on state TV funded by the Kremlin were getting a stronger sense of urgency around Russian President Vladimir Putin’s NATO “ultimatum”. State TV presenter Olga Skabeeva on 60 minutes stated on 21 December 2021: “The anxiety level has reached its maximum. It’s 20 days before the ultimatum expires and the stakes are rising, although it looks like it can’t be higher.”
On 21 December 2021 Putin set out what he sees as the country’s main defense priorities in a speech to top military chiefs in Moscow in which he displayed frustration with NATO. He warned about the prospect of the US-led military bloc’s hardware appearing on Ukrainian territory, arguing that if Western missile systems are deployed there, “their flight time to Moscow will be reduced to 7-10 minutes, and if hypersonic weapons are deployed – to just five.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu also took the floor following Putin’s speech to allege that US private military companies are preparing a chemical weapons “provocation” in eastern Ukraine. He claimed that containers with “unidentified chemical components” have been delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman in the Donbass. However, the minister provided no further details or evidence of the chemical attacks that had purportedly been planned.
The seventeenth big press conference of Vladimir Putin on 23 December 2021 turned out to be intense and intense: fifty-five questions in four hours. The president saw in the current actions of the West preparations for a "third military operation" in southeastern Ukraine. "Now we are told "war, war, war." How is Russia supposed to live with this, all the time with an eye on it, when they fuck it up?" And Moscow will have to act, although "this is not our choice."
Vladimir Putin's reasoning could be described by the "strategic depth" concept, the distances between the front lines or battle sectors and the country's industrial core areas, capital cities, or other key centres of population. In his annual press conference in December 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that if the US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, their flight time to Moscow would amount to 7 - 8 minutes; it would take just 4 - 5 minutes for a hypersonic missile to reach Russia's capital from the Eastern European state. The US and its NATO allies have pinned Russia into a position from which it has nowhere to fall back to, Putin stressed. The strategic depth of Russian space had saved the country in the invasions of Napoleon and Hitler.
The United States and Western countries should immediately impose sanctions on Russia to prevent its "extortionate demands" and force it to make concessions, former State Department special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volcker wrote 26 December 2021 in an article on the website of the Center for European Policy Analysis. Until now, he said, Washington and its allies have imposed economic restrictions on Moscow only after it "did something bad." Volcker said "The trend should change - the West should introduce new sanctions right now and agree to lift them only if Russia refuses military escalation".
The United States will cease its presence in Ukraine after the press conference by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ilya Kiva, a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the Opposition Platform - For Life party , said 26 December 2021. According to the parliamentarian, the Russian leader "made it clear" to Washington that Moscow will not tolerate Western provocations on the territory of the former Soviet republic and will suppress them. "The ultimatum has been set, we are waiting for a response from the West. Personally, I am sure that the Yankees will soon begin to curtail their presence and activities on the territory of Ukraine." The deputy recalled the hasty retreat of NATO forces from Afghanistan, accompanied by the fall of the country's pro-Western government, and concluded that Ukraine would face the same development of events.
The North Atlantic Alliance is preparing for a large-scale armed conflict with Russia, said Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin at a 27 December 2021 briefing for military attachés and representatives of foreign embassies accredited in Moscow. "The military construction of the bloc has been completely redirected to prepare for a large-scale, high-intensity armed conflict with Russia," Fomin said. According to him, in NATO doctrinal documents of recent years, for example, in the NATO military strategy of 2019, the Russian Federation is directly, "without any equivalents identified as the main source of threats to coalition security."
"Recently, the alliance has switched to the practice of direct provocations, fraught with a high risk of escalating into an armed confrontation," Fomin said on Monday at a briefing for military attachés and representatives of foreign embassies accredited in Moscow. As a typical example, he cited the attempt of the British destroyer HMS Defender on June 23, 2021, to penetrate the territorial waters of the Russian Federation in the area of Cape Fiolent off the coast of Crimea. "It is significant that the actions of the British Navy ship were provided by the American strategic reconnaissance aircraft RC-135," Fomin said. According to him, in the Black Sea region, in comparison with 2020, the intensity of the use of reconnaissance aircraft has increased by more than 60 percent. The number of sorties increased from 436 to 710.
"Every year, the NATO bloc conducts 30 major exercises, during which scenarios for conducting military operations against Russia are being worked out. Within the framework of combat training events, special attention is paid to the creation of strike groups near the borders of our country. In particular, a series of Defender exercises were held in May-June of this year. Europe 2021 with the transfer from the United States of America and Western Europe to the eastern flank of reinforcement troops of up to 40 thousand people, "Fomin said.
Amid those tensions between Washington and Moscow, the U.S. vice president Kamala Harris has warned Russia of unprecedented sanctions. In an interview with CBS on 26 December 2021, Harris said Russia could see sanctions not seen before should it invade Ukraine. Harris added that the U.S. is working with allies to stand up for Ukraine's territorial integrity. This comes amid Russia's military buildup on the Ukrainian border. Harris declined to talk about specific sanctions, but said the U.S. is having direct conversations with Russia.
Unlike Moscow, Washington has been exhibiting a dangerous tendency towards simplifying the circumstances for the possible use of nuclear weapons, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov noted in an interview published in the International Affairs journal on 27 December 2021. "We in Moscow are committed to raising the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. An opposite trend has been seen in the United States over the recent years, with the means for nuclear destruction appearing to be perceived more and more as a battlefield weapon. This is a dangerous trend," the senior Russian diplomat stressed.
This view of the use of nuclear potential undermines strategic stability, Ryabkov specified. "I believe that we are close to a point, beyond which diplomacy would play a subordinate role, despite all of its skills. Today, as it seems to me, political and diplomatic tools should be used first and foremost to settle this situation. And we outlined [in the Russia-proposed security guarantees] how to settle it. We urge that this issue should be taken seriously," the high-ranking Russian diplomat said. What was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 must not recur in the way it took place, Ryabkov emphasized.
Andrei Shitov, a columnist for TASS, wrote 27 December 2021 that "The threat of war appears to the Americans and their NATO allies in new Russian proposals to strengthen peace and security in Europe. Presumably, primarily because of such fears, these proposals were not rejected outright in the West. It is unlikely that they want to test the power of the Avangards, Zircons and other newest Russian weapons on themselves."
In an interview with RIA Novosti, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Belarus will offer Russia to deploy nuclear weapons on its territory if NATO takes a similar step in Poland. A few weeks later, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Uladzimir Makei, in an interview with RT Arabic, informed that in the face of the threat posed by the North Atlantic Alliance, the possibility of deploying nuclear forces on the territory of the republic was being considered . The Kremlin, through the mouth of the press spokesman of President Dmitry Peskov, replied that the appearance of weapons on the Russian borders requires a reaction from Moscow to balance the situation. And that different options are possible.
Russia already has sea, air and land (Iskander-M and Iskander-K) carriers of tactical nuclear weapons in the Kaliningrad Oblast, thanks to which the most western region of Russia "has at gunpoint "European direction. On the other hand, this point of view seems to be incorrect. The fact is that much larger territories of Eastern Europe can be fired from the territory of Belarus. Additionally, Kaliningrad is a very small and therefore a fragile territorial unit in the event of a "great war".
The nuclear force left the republic, but the ammunition storage infrastructure remained. These are warehouses, underground warehouses, fenced areas. As Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with RIA Novosti, as a diligent landlord "he did not destroy anything, all the barns are standing still".
Putin's Nuclear Crisis - January 2022
"NATO needs to collect up its belongings and go back to the borders of 1997," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said 09 January 2022. "Even a layman understands that demanding concessions from Russia in a situation where NATO has been striving throughout the past decades to 'drive back' our country and turn it - if not into a subordinate, then at least to a secondary role in European and international politics - and to do so with direct damage to our security, will no longer work. This is all in the past," he said. "I can say that that...the demands of the United States and other NATO countries that we carry out some 'de-escalation measures' on our territory are out of the question. This is a non-starter in the literal sense of the word. If the Americans want to talk about changing our approach, for example, to the Minsk Package of Measures [on peace in Ukraine] or even stutter about something like Crimea, this also has no chance for discussions," Ryabkov said.
Evelyn Farkas, who served as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under Barack Obama, aregued on 11 January 2022 that "The only way to reassert the primacy of international law and sanctity of international borders, and contain Russia, may be to issue our own ultimatum. We must not only condemn Russia’s illegal occupations of Ukraine and Georgia, but we must demand a withdrawal from both countries by a certain date and organize coalition forces willing to take action to enforce it. … The horrible possibility exists that Americans, with our European allies, must use our military to roll back Russians – even at the risk of direct combat. But if we don’t now, Putin will force us to fight another day, likely to defend our Baltic or other East European allies."
The United States and Russia would hold much-anticipated talks on 10 January 2021, with the rivals due to negotiate on nuclear arms control and mounting tensions over Ukraine. "The United States looks forward to engaging with Russia," a spokesperson for the National Security Council said, on condition of anonymity. "When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia's activities as well." Moscow and NATO representatives are then expected to meet January 12, while Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States, would meet January 13.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, complained that the bloc had been left out — he said he wasn't even asked — when it came to security in Europe and in Ukraine. When it comes to the relationship with Russia, there are clear differences within NATO and the EU, depending on the interests of the member states. The EU was understandably reluctant to target the sector that would really hurt Russia, namely energy supplies.
"I don't think we're going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a CNN interview 10 January 2021. "To make actual progress, it's very hard to see that happening when there's an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders," Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.
To abandon its demands for a more-limited agenda would be a major climb-down that Russia seems unlikely to make, especially after weeks of troop movements near Ukraine and a series of tough statements from President Vladimir Putin. Russia and the United States gave no sign that they had narrowed their differences on Ukraine and wider European security in talks in Geneva 10 January 2022, as Moscow repeated demands that Washington says it cannot accept. Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said: “We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.”
Following discussions in Switzerland over the future of European security, Russia's chief negotiator warned that his American counterparts “underestimate the gravity of the situation.” While the US delegation came to Geneva for “serious” discussions on Moscow’s European security proposals, they failed to show an understanding of how key issues need to be resolved, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. He insisted that if NATO proceeds toward the deployment of new capabilities in weaponry, “which are being developed very rapidly in the US,” the Russian military may reply in a way that “will inevitably and unavoidably damage the security of the US and its European allies.”
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman suggested that the US could alter its placement of missiles in Europe to better accommodate Russian security concerns. This statement echoes Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comments to US cable news networks on 08 January 2021, in which he suggested that the current talks could possibly revive the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Russia said on 13 Janaury 2022 it hit a dead end in its efforts to persuade the West to bar Ukraine from joining NATO and roll back decades of alliance expansion in Europe, and threatened unspecified consequences in response. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russian military specialists were providing options to President Vladimir Putin in case the situation around Ukraine worsens, but diplomacy must be given a chance. He said talks with the United States in Geneva and with NATO in Brussels had shown there was a "dead end or difference of approaches", and he saw no reason to sit down again in the coming days to re-start the same discussions.
Russia gave a stark assessment of the week's diplomacy before it had even finished, as talks were under way in Vienna on Thursday at the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (OSCE). "If we don't hear constructive response to our proposals within reasonable timeframe & aggressive behaviour towards (Russia) continues, we'll have to take necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security," the Russian Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko NATO and other Western countries must press Kiev into fulfilling the Minsk agreements – a comprehensive 2015 deal that provides a roadmap out of the conflict between the Ukrainian authorities and the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, the diplomat explained. “First of all, it is necessary to press the authorities in Kiev into a full and unconditional implementation of the Minsk agreements,” he said. “If the Minsk agreements are implemented, there will be no threat to the security of Ukraine and its territorial integrity.” To facilitate the de-escalation, the US-led bloc should also stop supplying Kiev with weaponry and “recall its instructors, officers, and soldiers” from the country, Grushko added.
David Ignatius reported "To prepare for the worst case of an all-out invasion, U.S. and allied intelligence officials are visiting Kyiv to plan a well-armed insurgency that could severely harass the attackers. If Russia climbed the ladder of escalation and tried to punish the United States with cyberattacks, the Biden administration is ready to respond in kind." But Artyom Lukin, associate professor of international relations at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, noted "Ukraine recognized defeat in the 2014-15 war in Donbas within several months. It was not only due to the inferiority of the Ukrainian army. It was also about the level of acceptance of human losses: even a few thousand combat deaths proved unbearable for the Ukrainian society.""
Consultations took place in Geneva on January 10, followed by a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels on January 12 and a session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council in Vienna on January 13. Moscow regarded its security guarantees talks with the United States and NATO as a failure, according to the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts interviewed by Izvestia said that such an outcome was not surprising. However, neither Russia nor NATO intend to wrap up dialogue at this point. Things will become clear when Washington and NATO are expected to furnish a written response to Moscow. The ultimate failure of the talks will lead to another rise in tensions because in such a case, Russia vowed to take retaliatory measures that haven’t been clarified.
Russia’s representative Alexander Lukashevich told the OSCE that Russia would take action if its concerns over Nato expansion were not taken seriously. "If we don't hear a constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable time frame and an aggressive line of behaviour towards Russia continues, we will be forced to draw appropriate conclusions and take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” Lukashevich told journalists after the talks finished. "Russia is a peace-loving country. But we do not need peace at any cost. The need to obtain these legally formalised security guarantees for us is unconditional,” he added.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, announced “We hope that the promises made now in Geneva and Brussels will be fulfilled. They concerned the fact that the United States and NATO would put their proposals ‘on paper’. We have clearly and repeatedly explained to them that we need to have an article-by-article reaction to our documents. If some position is not suitable, let them explain why and write ‘on paper’. If it is suitable with amendments, then they should also be done in writing. If they want to exclude or add something – a similar request. We gave our thoughts in writing a month ago. There was plenty of time in Washington and Brussels. Both of them promised that they would put their reaction ‘on paper’.”
Russia agreed to wait ten days from the end of talks for a US written response to its demands.
"It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years," Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said. “This talk of war is more done on the western side,” said Dmitri Trenin, the head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, in a television interview this week. “On the Russian side, there is none of that. There is no feeling of an impending war in Ukraine. But military pressure is certainly there, and military pressure is certainly to continue; the military pressure may increase.”
Pravda reported 14 January 2022 that a Russian nuclear submarine of the Borey project, which carries 16 Bulava ballistic missiles on board, "unexpectedly appeared off the coast of the United States, having caused serious concerns in Washington". According to NetEase publication, Russian nuclear submarine of the Borey project (according to other sources, it was an Akula project submarine), approached the US coast unnoticed. It was possible to establish the whereabouts of the nuclear submarine with up to 160 nuclear warheads on board after the sub started going back to the base. This may have been fake news, but if so it was seeded as a taste of what is to come shortly in real news
Gilbert Doctorow argued 14 January 2022 " Putin’s Plan B would likely be purely “military-technical” in the sense of roll-out of medium range nuclear capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Belarus, to place all of Europe under threat of attack with ultra-short warning times, such as Moscow finds unacceptable coming from U.S.-NATO encirclement of its territory. At the same time, Moscow might announce the stationing off of the American East and West Coasts of its submarines and frigates carrying hypersonic missiles and the Poseidon deep sea nuclear capable drone..."
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made it clear in a press briefing that the topic is not on top of the agenda for President Joe Biden's administration, but that Washington would definitely respond to any attempts by Moscow to ramp up its capabilities in the Americas. “If Russia were to move in that direction, we would deal with it decisively,” Sullivan said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on 17 January 2022 said Russia was “reviewing different scenarios”. He told reporters on a conference call “For Latin America – we’re talking about sovereign states there, let’s not forget that. And, in the context of the current situation, Russia is exploring options that would ensure its security.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said 18 Januaray 2022 that the United States and NATO promised to provide written responses to Russia's list of proposals. Moscow said it sought “legally binding security guarantees” after Western governments warned that Russia’s troop buildup could signal an imminent invasion of Ukraine. “We’re currently waiting for the promised answers in order to continue negotiations,” Lavrov said during talks with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock in Moscow. “We expect to continue these negotiations, it’s a serious issue and you can’t delay the specific agreements on this matter,” the Russian diplomat said.
The United States would provide Russia with written responses to its proposals for security guarantees. This was stated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken following the talks they held on 21 January 2022 in Geneva. After that, Lavrov and Blinken intend to meet again.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the counterproposals sent by the United States were better than those sent by NATO. Washington's counterproposals included curbs on military exercises and missiles in Europe - a renewal of the CFE and INF treaties. Lavrov said the US proposal had "grains of rationality" on what he termed "secondary issues." He called it "almost an example of diplomatic propriety," while describing the NATO response as "idealized." "I was a little ashamed for the people who wrote these texts," Lavrov said, referring to the NATO response.
Moscow had said that if its demands aren't met, it will opt for a "military-technical" solution, but denied any intention to invade Ukraine.
Claims that Moscow could soon send troops and hardware to Cuba, barely 100 miles off the US coast, should be ruled out because such a move would destroy the island nation’s hopes of normalizing relations with Washington, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned. Medvedev said that the two Latin American countries are close partners of Moscow, but are also sovereign nations who are “trying to escape from isolation and reestablish normal relations with the US to some extent.” He went on “We can’t deploy anything there. Even if, as is the case in Cuba, this is only because of their geopolitical position, their own national interests.” The ex-leader argued that there shouldn’t even be discussion of such a plan, because it would “provoke tension in the world.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was "a kernel of rationality" in the US’s expressed readiness "to discuss a moratorium on deploying short- and medium-range missiles in Europe, something he pointed out Putin had earlier proposed. "This was rejected for the past two or three years," Lavrov said, "and now they are offering to discuss it."
Putin's Nuclear Crisis - February 2022
The Financial Times reported 05 February 2022 that "US military and intelligence officials believe that Russia is planning to hold a big nuclear weapons exercise this month as a warning to Nato not to intervene if President Vladimir Putin decides to invade Ukraine. General Mark Milley, chair of the joint chiefs, and Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, told lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday that Putin was planning to start the exercises in mid-February, according to a Congressional aide with knowledge of the closed-door briefing. Russia generally holds its annual nuclear exercises — which involve testing intercontinental ballistic missiles from land, sea and air — in the fall. But the US believes Putin has decided to hold them earlier this year as a show of strength in the event that he orders his military to further invade Ukraine."
Russia's decision to postpone the nuclear triad exercises to the end of February - just in time for the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics - came as a complete surprise and a source of great concern to the US political elite. This opinion was expressed by the Israeli military expert and political scientist Yakov Kedmi on the air of the TV show "Evening with Vladimir Solovyov" on the channel "Russia-1" on 09 February 2022.
According to the expert, the coming year 2022 will be a period of new world development, but not everyone in the world is happy about it. In particular, the authorities of the United States of America do not want to put up with the upcoming changes. And they were not even enlightened by the recent joint speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who said that Moscow and Beijing intend to resist Washington's interference in the internal affairs of the states of Europe, the Far East and the Asia-Pacific region.
The main problem of the Americans, the expert explained, is the unwillingness to understand the simple truth, which is that the US hegemony on the planet is over. The United States of America will have to get used to listening to the opinions and interests of other members of the international community, whether they like it or not. At the same time, Washington participates in Moscow-initiated negotiations on security guarantees, realizing its weakness, but trying to hide it. That is why the Americans are making efforts to aggravate tensions around Ukraine, but they do not even realize that this Time Russia intends to insist on its own.
“And finally, someone in the White House noticed that it turns out that Putin postponed large-scale maneuvers of the nuclear triad to the end of February - the beginning of March. Just in time for the end of the Olympics. And why would it? This nuclear maneuver by Moscow instilled such fear in the American elites that they seriously thought about whether it was worth taking risks with Ukraine before a new stage of negotiations,” Kedmi explained.
In a joint statement issued 11 February 2022, a senior group of American, European, and Russian security experts warned that: “The tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and NATO create the potential for a disastrous war that can and must be avoided through serious and deft diplomacy.” The experts are members of a 24-member group of leading nuclear arms control and risk reduction experts known as the Deep Cuts Commission. “Among other steps, NATO and Russia should pursue agreement on common sense arms control instruments to help move away from the brink of disaster and promote stability and security in Europe,” they write.
“NATO and Russia have advanced different ideas on conventional and nuclear arms control. Yet, the two draft agreements put forward by Moscow in December 2021 as well as the U.S. and NATO responses to these texts submitted in January 2022 indicate there is room for negotiations designed to resolve mutual security concerns,” the Commissioners note.
“Both sides have stated that they are ready to engage in talks on risk reduction and confidence-building concerning offensive and defensive missile deployments in Europe, transparency on conventional weapons and military exercises, as well as on conventional forces posture and arms control,” the Commissioners point out in their joint statement.
Among other steps, the Commission recommends negotiations on a balanced agreement between the United States and Russia on a verifiable moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles between the Atlantic and the Urals and an arrangement between NATO and Russia for reciprocal transparency visits to NATO’s Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland and Russia’s 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile sites. US projections that 16 February 2022 could be the date of a Russian military campaign against Ukraine didn't materialize. International tensions remained high as the US said 150,000 Russian troops were massed to the north, south and east of Ukraine, and Western officials said a Russian invasion could still happen at any moment.
Yury Tavrovsky, head of the "Russian Dream-Chinese Dream" analytic center of the Izborsk Club, told the Global Times 16 February 2022, that having achieved an advantage in offensive weapons, primarily hypersonic missiles, Putin got the opportunity to talk to Biden on equal terms and not "blink first," adding that Russia has converted its military-technical achievements into geopolitical ones, and in the foreseeable future, the conversation with the West will be much tougher. Tavrovsky said the new level of strategic partnership demonstrated during the latest Xi-Putin meeting is a big step forward in curbing the arrogance of the West.
Russia's Defence Ministry announced 18 February 2022 it will conduct missile drills on 19 February 2022 under the supervision of President Vladimir Putin. It said that the exercise is designed to test the readiness of strategic deterrence, including nuclear forces. It will involve the Aerospace Forces, the Strategic Missile Forces, the Black Sea Fleet and the Northern Fleet. The ministry said ballistic and cruise missiles will be launched, and that President Putin will personally oversee the exercise. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the drills are transparent and should not be a cause for concern.
On 21 February 2022 Putin said "... the danger of a sudden strike against our country will increase many times over. Let me explain that US strategic planning documents contain the possibility of a so-called preemptive strike against enemy missile systems. And who is the main enemy for the US and NATO? We know that too. It’s Russia. In NATO documents, our country is officially and directly declared the main threat to North Atlantic security. And Ukraine will serve as a forward springboard for the strike. If our ancestors had heard about it, they probably would simply not have believed it. And today we don’t want to believe it, but it’s true."
Western sanctions could be an “excellent reason for a final review” of Russia’s relations with the nations that have imposed the restrictions, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, said 26 February 2022. “Sanctions could be an excellent reason for the final review of all relations with those states that have introduced them. Including interruption of the dialogue on strategic stability,” Medvedev wrote. He added that in principle, it is possible “to renounce everything,” including the New START Treaty.
Special Mode of Combat Duty - 27 February 2022By order of President Vladimir Putin, on 27 February 2022 the Russian deterrence forces were transferred to a special mode of combat duty - they also include strategic nuclear forces. Putin stated this at a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. “You see that Western countries are taking not only unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, I mean illegitimate sanctions that everyone knows about. But the top officials of the leading NATO countries also allow aggressive statements against our country, therefore I order the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff to transfer the containment forces of the Russian army to a special mode of combat duty,” Putin said. What specific measures can be taken now - this is not reported, since the status is usually confidential.
"It is assumed that the crews of the aircraft are ready to take off, or maybe some aircraft have already been raised. For example, long-range radar reconnaissance aircraft. Accordingly, intercontinental ballistic missiles are ready for launch, and submarines that carry ballistic missiles, as a rule, are withdrawn at this time to the open sea," director of the Center for Military-Political Problems Alexey Podberezkin stressed.
Moscow said the move was made at least partly in response to comments by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who told Sky News that unless Putin was stopped in Ukraine, other countries in Eastern Europe would come under threat, leading to a conflict with NATO. “Statements were made by various representatives at various levels on possible altercations, or even collisions and clashes, between NATO and Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on 28 February 2022. “We believe that such statements are absolutely unacceptable.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin on 28 February 2022 that the duty shifts of the control posts of the Strategic Missile Forces, the Northern and Pacific Fleets and the long-range aviation command had begun to carry out combat duty with reinforced personnel.
The order of Russian President Vladimir Putin to transfer the strategic deterrence forces of the RF Armed Forces to a special mode of combat duty cannot be read twice. This was emphasized by the press secretary of the head of state Dmitry Peskov. “What is there to understand? There is neither a second meaning, nor a double bottom, it clearly says: the strategic deterrence forces [to switch to a special mode of combat duty]. This is an absolutely exhaustive command of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief,” Peskov stressed.
Russia's top diplomat Sergey Lavrov said 03 March 2022 there was a "conversation" about nuclear war happening right now, but that it was not happening in Russia. "Everyone understands that WWIII could only be a nuclear war," he said. "But I want to point out that nuclear war keeps bouncing around in the heads of Western politicians, not Russians. I assure you that we will allow no provocations to take us out of balance, but if they start waging a real war against us, people who are hatching those plans should think about that. And, from my perspective, those plans are being hatched."
Germany takes "very seriously" the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin on a special duty regime for the deterrent forces of the Russian Federation, considers such actions irresponsible, said German government spokesman Steffen Hebeshtreit. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht expressed concern over the transfer of the deterrence forces of the Russian army to a special mode of combat duty. She expressed this opinion on the radio station Deutschlandfunk. "This should be taken very seriously and, above all, monitor our intelligence," Lambrecht said. "We have seen how unpredictable [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is, and so now we must be very vigilant," she argued.
US officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin's order to put the deterrence forces on special alert is part of an approach that involves creating non-existent threats to the country to "justify aggression." NATO has never threatened Russia, according the text of the White House statement.
The United States saw no reason to change its nuclear alert levels, the White House said on 28 February 2022. "We have not changed our own alerts, and we have not changed our own assessment in that front but we also need to be very clear-eyed about his own use of threats," White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told MSNBC.
President Joe Biden has shrugged off fears that tensions between Washington and Moscow over the Ukraine crisis will escalate into nuclear war, denying that Americans have any reason to be concerned about risks of such a conflict. Asked by a reporter whether Americans should be worried about nuclear war, Biden curtly replied, “No.” The question came at a spontaneous moment while Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were walking by a group of journalists on Monday during a Black History Month event at the White House. There can be many provocations around the situation with Russia's military operation in Ukraine - both on the borders of Russia and near Crimea, as well as in the airspace, Aleksey Leonkov, editor of Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, said in a conversation with RBC. The President's order to bring the deterrence forces to a special combat alert regime indicates increased vigilance so that these provocations do not end in tragedy, the expert explained. “Therefore, the regular units of the deterrence forces (the nuclear triad) are put on alert, a thorough check of possible provocations is being carried out in order to prevent unforeseen cases,” Leonkov said.
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said that Western countries are pushing the world towards a "third world war" by sanctions pressure on Russia due to a special operation in Ukraine. “Now there is a lot of talk against the banking sector. Gas, oil, SWIFT. It's worse than war. This pushes Russia into a third world war. Therefore, here we need to be restrained so as not to get into trouble. Because nuclear war is everything,” he said.
NATO saw no need to change its nuclear alert posture at this stage, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said. “We will always do what is needed to protect and defend our allies, but we don’t think there is any need now to change the alert levels of NATO’s nuclear forces,” Stoltenberg said, speaking to the AP following talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda at an airbase in central Poland 01 March 2022.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe was “unacceptable” to Moscow, and in contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Washington is a party. “It is high time the US nuclear weapons are returned home, and the infrastructure in Europe related to them completely dismantled,” he said.
Putin's Nuclear Crisis - March 2022
On 11 March 2022 Biden said the United States would defend the territory of NATO member states against an attack from Russia but that delivering the NATO-member's fighter jest to Ukraine could lead to World War III. He also ruled out entering the war over Ukraine. "We're gonna continue to stand together with our allies in Europe and send unmistakable message that we will defend every inch of NATO territory, every single inch with the united galvanized NATO," Biden said during remarks to the House Democratic Caucus. "That's why I moved over 12,000 American forces along the borders with Russia: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, etc., because if they [Russia] move once, granted if we respond, it is World War III, but we have a sacred obligation on NATO territory, a sacred obligation Article Five, although we will not fight a third world war in Ukraine."
On 16 March 2022, Putin said "there were also statements by the Kiev authorities about their intention to create now their own nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles. It was a real threat. Already in the foreseeable future, with foreign technical assistance, the pro-Nazi regime in Kyiv could get its hands on weapons of mass destruction, and the target for it, of course, would be Russia."
Joseph Trevithick noted 20 March 2022 that : "a significant number of aircraft assigned to Russia's Rossiya Special Flight Detachment have made curious flights in and around the country. ... many of the other Rossiya Special Flight Detachment sorties have the look of a strategic drill of some kind meant to demonstrate Russia's continuity of government plans. The locations in Siberia where a number of the aircraft flew on Thursday were relatively close to known and suspected underground bunker complexes that Russia's top leadership, including Putin, and other officials might flee to in a major crisis, such as a nuclear war. ... The long-distance Il-96 flight three days ago now reflects another option for how Russian leaders could continue to exercise command and control over the country's military and other key government agencies while reducing their vulnerability during various contingencies."
Russia is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or group of aggressors at any distance in a matter of minutes. This was stated 23 March 2022 by the Director General of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin. "I want to confirm, knowing the technical side of the matter, that the Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or any group of aggressors at any distance, global distance in a matter of minutes," he said on Channel One. The head of Roskosmos also expressed the hope that Russia would not have to use the rockets that the state corporation creates, since they are "as a last resort."
“Our vehicles are in case of a very extreme case, this is what, I think, the President [of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin] was talking about when he warned those countries that would try to intervene in this special military operation, including NATO countries, so that no one would forget that "Russia has a very reliable strategic nuclear potential and its means of delivery. The means of delivery are intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as operational-tactical missile systems, and so on," he said.
On 23 March 2022, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused three times on CNN to rule out the possibility of Putin using a nuclear weapon as part of the conflict. He said that the Russian President was allowed to use the forces at his disposal to see off an “existential threat”. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby called out Peskov’s remarks as “dangerous”, adding it is “not the way a responsible nuclear power should act”.
Moscow’s tightly-controlled state TV issued a chilling nuclear threat to the West should NATO wade into the bout by sending peacekeepers into Ukraine, saying World War III may just be lurking around the corner. TV presenter Vyacheslav Nikonov claimed that Russian truck drivers stuck on the border had spotted “an accumulation of American and Polish troops”.
“As for me, Poland strives not just to fulfil a peacekeeping mission, but to stake out the territories which they consider belonging to them historically,” Russian television host and political commentator, Olga Vladimirovna Skabeyeva noted. “They should understand that this will represent a direct clash between the armed forces of Russia and NATO, and how this collision will end is probably not worth explaining… this is called World War Three,” she added.
Russia’s threats were echoed on other Kremlin-controlled shows. On Channel 1, Colonel Yury Knutov repeated the same claims. He said, “If there are any sane people left in NATO, they will not approve [a peacekeeping] operation [in Ukraine]. Why? Because [a collective] NATO decision will mean a de facto declaration of war on Russia… this would be a casus belli – meaning war between Russia and NATO. To win this war, whether we like it or not, we will have to use tactical nuclear weapons in the theatre of operations”.
Vladimir Rudolfovich Solovyov (b.1963) is a Russian high-profile propagandist, TV and radio host. He became a presenter of a TV talk show, Duel on Rossiya 1, a host of a debate show, Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, on Rossiya 1, and a host of a radio show, Total contact, on Vesti FM. The shows are quite similar to the ones on NTV but with a presenter openly and aggressively supporting the pro-Kremlin side.
During the Russian propagandist television show 'Evening with Vladimir Solovyov' on Russia-1 [possibly broadcast 20 March 2022], Yaakov Kedmi stated "Whatever treaty Russia may sign with current Ukrainian regime will mean the defeat of Russia. Final and complete defeat! In the eyes of the Russian people, in the eyes of the Russian army, in the eyes of the whole world. And then the support of India, China, Arab world will evaporate. When Russia sent an ultimatum to the US, Russia also sent an ultimatum to itself. It has not right to lose. It means that Russia has no power to deal with whom? With Ukraine? With Zelensky? Khasavyurt would look like a great diplomatic achievement in comparison. Because Kasavyurt was not a beginning of the end of the Russian State. And this treaty may be the beginning of the end of the Russian State. Because if you failed with Ukraine then why do you threaten the NATO? Why do you threaten the US? You could not deal with Zelensky, so what are you? You have a choice: either you win this operation or start the final countdown."
After 18 months of fighting, 40,000 civilians and 7,500 Russian servicemen were killed and Moscow decided to end the First Chechen war with the Khasavyurt agreement of 31 August 1996. Chechnya almost immediately began abrogating the agreements it had made, demonstrating to the world its goal - complete independence. Ultimately, the peace the Khasavyurt Accord brought proved to be as unpopular as the war it ended, and the Accord is now nothing more than a glorified cease-fire document. “ No more Khasavyurts ! " is a rallying cry frequently heard in statements by regime representatives and by their supporters.
Yaakov Kedmi is a former director of the Israeli secret service Nativ, a special service that transported Eastern Bloc Jews to Israel. In the 2010s, Kedmi became a regular participant in propaganda shows on Russian TV. He plays the role of the “useful Israeli” and uses his status as the former head of an Israeli secret service. His statements completely match with the most controversial claims of Russian officials and propagandists.
Dmitry Polyanskiy, the Russian deputy ambassador to the UN, warning Moscow reserved the right to deploy nuclear weapons if "provoked". Polyanskiy said: “If Russia is provoked by NATO, if Russia is attacked by NATO […] we are a nuclear power, why not?” He said “But it's not the right thing to threaten Russia, and to try to interfere. So when you're dealing with a nuclear power, of course, you have to calculate all the possible outcomes of your behaviour.”
The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia against the use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine. “Russia must stop this dangerous irresponsible nuclear rhetoric… Russia must understand that it can never win a nuclear war,” Stoltenberg said 23 March 2022, adding that any Russian use of biological or chemical weapons would have “far-reaching consequences” and that NATO was ready “ protect allies from any threat at any time." NATO leaders should also agree on additional assistance to Kiev, including supplies of equipment that will help Ukraine defend itself against chemical, biological and nuclear threats, Stoltenberg said.
Assistant to the President of Russia and head of the Russian delegation at the talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinsky , claims that now "at stake" is "the very existence of Russia as a Russian civilization." Medinsky, a former minister of culture and author of a number of books on history, expressed this opinion on 24 March 2022 at a meeting of the Interdepartmental Commission on Historical Education in Moscow. Medinsky added that the collective West is pushing Russia to destroy the political system and the country. According to him, the situation can be compared with the Time of Troubles, on the eve of February 1917, when the monarchy was overthrown, and 1989, the events of which Medinsky connected with the collapse of the USSR. What is "Russian civilization" and what exactly is the West doing to destroy it, he did not explain.
Medinsky's wording about the threat to "the very existence of Russia" is reminiscent of a phrase from Russian military doctrine, according to which Russia can be the first to use nuclear weapons in the event of aggression against it using conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is threatened.
On 26 March 2022, Medvedev said Russia’s nuclear doctrine did not require an enemy state to use such weapons first. He said: “We have a special document on nuclear deterrence. This document clearly indicates the grounds on which the Russian Federation is entitled to use nuclear weapons. There are a few of them, let me remind them to you: number one is the situation, when Russia is struck by a nuclear missile. The second case is any use of other nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies.
“The third is an attack on a critical infrastructure that will have paralysed our nuclear deterrent forces. And the fourth case is when an act of aggression is committed against Russia and its allies, which jeopardised the existence of the country itself, even without the use of nuclear weapons, that is, with the use of conventional weapons.”
Medvedev added that there was a “determination to defend the independence, sovereignty of our country, not to give anyone a reason to doubt even the slightest that we are ready to give a worthy response to any infringement on our country, on its independence”.
Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine left many Americans worried that the US will be drawn directly into the conflict and could be targeted with nuclear weapons, with a poll released 28 March 2022 reflecting a level of anxiety that has echoes of the Cold War era. Close to half of Americans say they are very concerned that Russia would directly target the US with nuclear weapons, and an additional 3 in 10 are somewhat concerned about that, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Seventy-one percent of Americans say the conflict has increased the possibility of nuclear weapons being used anywhere in the world.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov told US broadcaster PBS in an interview 28 March 2022 that Russia would only resort to nuclear weapons in the case of a “threat to the existence” of the country. “But any outcome of the operation (in Ukraine), of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon,” he said, echoing comments he made to CNN last week. “We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state, in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat for the existence of our country.”
Putin's Nuclear Crisis - April 2022
The United States canceled the 02 April 2022 test launch of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile has a range of nearly 10,000 km, is capable of carrying nuclear weapons and is a key component of the arsenal of the US military. Its tests were postponed for the first time on 02 March 2022, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country's nuclear forces on high alert. The United States then said it was taking steps to minimize the "risk of miscalculation", but only "slightly" postponed the test. A spokesman for the US Air Force said the cancellation was due to the same reasons.
By early April 2022, Russia had done badly in the war with Ukraine, the carefullly burnished myth of its new professional armed forces lying in tatters, the country’s international prestige at rock bottom. Inefficient, inept and clumsily brutal, Russia’s military has one more chance to reverse its misfortunes on the battlefield as a new wave of reinforcements, culled from overseas, begin to make themselves felt. If Putin cannot come out of this war with something that looks like victory or there is an occasion where Russian soldiers are being seen to be generally routed, some obserrvers thought the chances of nuclear use by Russia to shore up its status as a world power start to grow.
Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns warned 14 April 2022 that the world should not underestimate Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose appetite for risk has only grown “as his grip on Russia has tightened.”
"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," Burns said during a speech to students at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, also known as Georgia Tech.
"We're obviously very concerned," he said, noting that Putin has an “almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia's sphere of influence," which includes bringing Ukraine under the Kremlin’s sway. "While we've seen some rhetorical posturing on the part of the Kremlin, moving to higher nuclear alert levels, so far we haven't seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce that concern," he said.
"We're obviously watching that very closely," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters during a briefing. "We have seen nothing in the space out there that has given us cause to change that [nuclear deterrence] posture in any tangible way."
"There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored," said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council. Medvedev said 14 April 2022 Russia would place warheads in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that is 500 kilometers from Berlin and less than 1,400 kilometers from London and Paris. Lithuania’s defense minister downplayed the Russian threat, calling it nothing new. "Nuclear weapons have always been kept in Kaliningrad ... the international community, the countries in the region, are perfectly aware of this,” Arvydas Anusauskas told Lithuania's BNS news service.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured 19 April 2022 that Moscow is not considering the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had previously stated, and does not plan to change power in Kyiv. "We are talking only about conventional weapons." Zelensky himself, according to the minister, is difficult to trust - he constantly changes his point of view. Zelensky claimed that Russia allegedly intends to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, but "he says a lot, depends on what he drinks or smokes." Lavrov said: “Ask Mr. Zelenskyy. We never mentioned about this. He mentioned this, so his intelligence must have provided him with some news. I cannot comment [on] something which a not very adequate person pronounces.”
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