Vladimir Putin softens nuclear rhetoric on Ukraine

East Russian President Vladimir Putin take a step back from the nuclear edge?

After weeks of atomic apocalyptic innuendoRussia 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 he used throughout October.

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

The statement added that Russian nuclear doctrine was unambiguous and did not allow for “extensive interpretation”, indicating that Moscow could try to backtrack on a number of statements challenging the doctrine.

The statement also included a call for talks on the kinds of “security guarantees” Russia had demanded from NATO before it. invaded 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 the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces have been on the back foot.

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

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

Defense Department 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 last month discussed the possible use of nuclear warheads and the conditions under which they would be acceptable, said two US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Although this is not the first time 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 Russian use of nuclear weapons because of 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 about Russia’s threshold for nuclear use. 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 he was 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 plans to use them to secure victory in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
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 else in the country as he tried to tackle 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 were marked by 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 the hope 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. Shoigu warned Austin 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 blame Ukraine for it.

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

Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote on Twitter that despite all the disturbing talk from Moscow about nuclear weapons, the Kremlin is unlikely to 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.

Coming a few hours later the Russian Ministry of Defense announced a sudden about-face on a decision made over the weekend suspend participation in the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiativethe 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 Erdoğan 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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