There have been increasing fears that with the advances of Ukrainian troops the Russian President could launch a nuclear strike. He has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons if NATO become directly involved in the conflict or if the “territorial integrity” of Russia is threatened.
It is unclear if Putin’s threats refer to the potential use of a direct launch against cities or military targets in Ukraine or even the West or tactical battlefield use, often referred to as a “tactical nuke”.
A tactical nuclear strike would involve a small yield weapon designed to be used on the frontline.
Given the logic of mutually assured destruction that a nuclear power that is attacked would fire a nuclear weapon in retaliation in effect starting a nuclear war the use of a tactical nuke appears more likely.
Although the use of such a weapon have a psychological impact, it would simply serve to cauterise international condemnation against Russia and Putin as well as further support for Ukraine.
Russian nuclear strikes have to be officially signed off by the President who uses a small briefcase known as “The Cheget” the Kremlin equivalent of the US President’s so-called “nuclear football”.
However, the case does not contain a launch button but instead transmits launch orders to The General Staff.
Following this cadre of senior officers, headed by General Valery Gerasimov, has to make the arrangements for the nuclear strike.
They then transmit authorisation codes to the individual weapons commanders to launch.
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“The Russian General Staff is professional enough to know that if they use a tactical nuclear weapon – it would be impossible for the US to not become further involved.
“So when you think about if there is no battlefield advantage, you only get the downside.
“That is why I think the people around Putin are saying ‘why would we do this?’, and I believe there are people around him who are planning for ‘life after Putin’.
“Are they really prepared to deal with an American or Western response?
“[Putin] would need the entire General Staff to go along with this – and I am not convinced that is likely.”
Colonel Richard Kemp who commanded the British forces in Afghanistan also told The Sun Online that somebody in the senior chain of command may block a nuclear launch.
He said: “Even if he decides he is right in a corner and has no other options and wants achieve something by nuclear release, I think he might find he is up against a problem with the chain of command.
“It is not just him who has the final say – there are about five levels of people who have to go along with it.
“Its quite possible among those five there are people who won’t go along with it.
“I would hope the West has been working on those individuals to try and persuade them this is not the right way to go.”