Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be able to make the decision to use a tactical nuclear strike unilaterally, while it is highly questionable whether he would be able to convince the leadership of that country of the merits of doing so, security expert Rainer Saks says.
The threat of a nuclear strike represents more of a psychological dimension than anything else, he added, noting that there are other more destructive weapons in modern-day military arsenals, than tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs).
Appearing on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Monday, Saks described (TNWs). as consisting of lower explosive-power nuclear warheads, which were developed primarily for the purpose of eliminating either critical infrastructure facilities or major troop concentrations.
Saks said that during the Cold War: "The Soviet Union made more of them than the western countries did, since the latter had switched their resources to the development of air forces. Essentially, Russia has over a thousand such warheads at its disposal, which under certain conditions might be used."
In principle, these could be delivered via artillery fire also, though given the hazards of doing this, Saks said he didn't find that scenario likely, adding that: "They can, however, be delivered via cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, or fired from aircraft-borne missiles. The Russian military has been rehearsing this technically in recent decades, so it is not justifiable to say that they cannot utilize this."
Since TNWs have not been used for a long time, no one knows exactly how large their destructive power is, but received wisdom has it to be within a radius of 35-50 kilometers, Saks added.
"This would also be accompanied by radioactive contamination, but in the case of a TNW, this is not so significant. What is key is the high destructive power. I would estimate that the damaged area would fall in a 35-50 km radius, but today there are non-nuclear charges with the same, or greater, destructive power."
"Development is in this has progressed in this field, meaning it is not justifiable to say that a nuclear weapon is the most terrifying thing in a military arsenal in terms of destructive power. There is a certain psychological aspect to it, however, and this is what Russia is using to deter Western society. There is no difference in this between the ordinary citizen and the ordinary politician. This is the main aspect of deterrence, that looks scary."
On the other hand, by threatening the use of nuclear weapons, Russia also wishes to put pressure on Ukraine to start negotiations on the Kremlin's terms, Saks added. Since the Russian president has said publicly that he wants to destroy Ukraine as a nation and culture, Ukraine will not go along with such blackmail, however.
"If America and other countries do not submit, nuclear weapons will not be used. I would like to emphasize that this (ie. the use of TNWs - ed.) would be taking a huge risk and could lead to an escalation into a major nuclear war," which would potentially have disastrous consequences for Russia, Saks added.
The Russian president may be frustrated by losses, but he cannot make the decision to use a nuclear weapon on his own, Saks said. In addition, a nuclear missile can be shot down or destroyed en route, while Ukraine has this capability, to some extent.
"The risks of using a nuclear weapon are very high. This cannot be used in a flash. It is highly visible, and before its detonation there would be an international escalation. Russia does not have a serious desire to do so at the moment. In addition, Ukraine has so far avoided attacking civilian and remote objects on Russian territory. In the event of a nuclear attack however, Russia must take into account that this would change, meaning it must evacuate all regions along the border of Ukraine. But it cannot do that. This makes it very questionable whether Putin would even succeed in convincing his leadership to use a nuclear weapon," Saks continued.
One of the biggest mistakes that Russia has made in its war starting February 24 is its crimes against humanity, Saks added, since these would rule out negotiations from the Ukrainian side, while: "On the other hand, these crimes speak of the nature of the Russian regime. The atrocities will be a burden that will accompany Russia for a long time, maybe for the whole century, and I don't know how Russia and the Russian people will be able to get away from that."
As to the outlook regarding military developments in the coming weeks, Saks noted that Ukraine's intensive offensive in the north will probably continue, though Russia will be able to organize resistance in the south
"Russia will respond to this with fiercer missile attacks on the cities of central and eastern Ukraine in order to destroy the civilian infrastructure and thus create an additional burden on Ukraine, which would not allow it to focus so much on fighting."
"Russia is probably also trying to send some of those mobilized to the front, but then the disaster will become even more visible to them, while after at the turn of the year, this will become a burden on Russian society," Saks added.
ERR News also asked Saks about his estimation of any potential TNW strike on a NATO power, on land air or sea, which he said Russia has no possibility of whatsoever, having lost any advantage it may have had earlier, to the extent that it cannot deal with Ukraine alone and having already escalated the situation so far.
Such an event would spell disaster for Russia and could, for instance, result in its losing Kaliningrad.
That this is the case is also behind Finland and Sweden's desire to join NATO, which they applied to do in May, and get the ratification process finalized as soon as possible, Saks added.
Former CIA director and retired army general David Petraeus said Sunday that the US would "destroy Russia's troops" if Russia used tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Editor: Andrew Whyte