Any potential decision on the part of the Russian Federation to deploy nuclear weapons is in the hands of one person alone, namely regime leader Vladimir Putin, panelists on Tuesday's edition of 'UV faktor' agreed.
Panelist Liis Mure, who is security adviser to President Alar Karis, said that while several figures in the Russian Federation who would be involved in the chain of command in using nuclear weapons, the ultimate decision is without a doubt one for Putin.
Mure told host Urmas Vaino that: "Even if these individuals – Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerassimov, whose name has been mentioned – think differently [from Putin] and want something else, it is possible for them all to be replaced. Today, they did not have much of a say in the making of key military decisions."
"The real political decision is surely in the hands of one person. At the military level, a lengthy chain of command ensues, but this consists of people who simply follow orders when a decision is made," she added.
Also appearing on "UV faktor" was EKRE MP and former full-time, current reservist, Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) officer Leo Kunnas, who concurred that the decision on pressing the nuclear button would be Putin's.
Kunnas said: "It is clear that the State Duma (the Russian legislature – ed.) are not going to decide on this. I fear that there is probably no process in place at the moment. If Putin really wants to do it, then that decision would be implemented. Personally, I really do fear this. Putin has a completely different approach to morality, to murder, to human beings, than what we imagine about all such things. This is dangerous. There's no civilian control, or any external control, over that."
Another participant on the show, Rene Värk, who is associate professor of international law at the University of Tartu, said that the procedure for using nuclear weapons in Russia has been debated somewhat, but it is still not known exactly how.
This includes: "Who gives the orders, who has the opportunity to launch a nuclear weapon, whether it is one person, several people and everything along those lines," Värk said.
"Plus we don't know. It is also, typically, a state secret. We can read something from Russia's military doctrine, which states that Russia has created a suitable narrative with the annexation [of Crimea], adding that now we actually have the opportunity to use a nuclear weapon, in the event that Russia's very existence is threatened. But what of the procedure? Perhaps the Americans know via their intelligence agencies."
Marti Jeltsov, a nuclear physicist and nuclear tech expert from the Tallinn-based National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (KBFI), outlined how nuclear weapons are used from a technical perspective, adding that as is often the case with Russian military hardware, poor maintenance can potentially be an issue.
Jeltsov said: "Technically speaking, warheads are already installed on the delivery systems, then it is a case of loading, aiming and firing. They then have to hope that the technology has been maintained and functions. Most likely, none of their weapons will work with 100 percent efficiency, I'm relatively sure of that. Technically it's not more complicated [than conventional weapons systems]; they are ordinary missiles."
In the event that Ukrainian air defense detects an incoming missile equipped with a nuclear warhead and shoots it down, Jeltsov added, the nuclear warhead would most likely not detonate on impact with the ground.
"So far as I am aware and according to current estimates, I would say that it would actually be very good if air defense shoot it down, as it certainly would not detonate the nuclear warhead with the efficiency that should be achieved via a full explosion.
The question is rather whether air defense can hit a missile carrying a nuclear warhead or not."
Kunnas added that: "It is possible to hit them, while I also think that the probability that such a nuclear warhead would detonate in that case is quite small."
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: 'UV faktor', Urmas Vaino