Expert: Russia's threats of nuclear war no longer work

Rainer Saks.
Rainer Saks. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In the current phase of the war in Ukraine, we can be confident that the use of nuclear weapons is not in Russia's interests and it will not achieve any of its goals by threatening to do so, said security expert Rainer Saks on morning radio show "Vikerhommik."

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly threatened the West with a nuclear attack. In Germany for example, those who oppose supplying Ukraine with heavy weaponry have often used the argument that doing so could lead to a nuclear war. However, according to security expert Rainer Saks, these kinds of threats are no longer effective.

"[A nuclear weapon] is used more for self-defense and is not suitable as an offensive weapon. Such threats don't work anymore, but they did in the past. And that is also the reason why the war in Ukraine started in February last year, or in fact had already started in 2014. Russia's threats were strong enough that [they made] Western countries back down and so Russia got the message that this was the way to move forward with what it wanted to do," Saks explained.

Saks expressed skepticism regarding German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's talk of wanting to speak to Vladimir Putin by telephone in order to persuade the Russian president to end the war in Ukraine.

"There is no use [in doing that]. It would be wiser to do something that has not been stated openly in advance. The problem for Germany, and also for France, is that they have no initiative in the war in Ukraine, they are [being] reactive. They don't know how to keep the initiative at the strategic level. In order to actively pursue an end to the war, they don't need to talk amongst themselves, but they have to send a message that will deter Russia. They also have to work globally, around the world, but they aren't doing that," Saks said.

According to Saks, Ukraine is now predominantly fighting with weapons from the West, most of which are in the artillery category. There is also a great deal of technology and equipment in the communications and intelligence spheres, which is not necessarily seen on a daily basis. Without it, Ukraine would not be able to hold its own, he said, adding that the Leopard 2 tanks promised last week will not be seen on the battlefield before April.

"These are very capable weapons platforms. But I don't think we will see Leopards in combat before April because the training will take time. The Ukrainian Defense Forces know how to use tanks, but they still have to learn how to use these specific tanks. They are still working on increasing the number of weapons. However, there are 100 problems here. The army ought to be rearmed in peacetime, not in wartime. This is something Estonia should also bear in mind," warned Saks.

Saks also commented on Ukraine's latest request for fighter jets from the West, which Chancellor Scholz has opposed.

"This is a much more difficult decision than [the one regarding] tanks. In a sense, it would be easier for Ukraine to get fighters than tanks, because the number of tanks in Western armies has been counted and there are not very many of them left. They are also not used that much," said Saks.

"Air power is a much more important weapon for the West, and as they are currently [in the process of] rearming with a new generation of fighters, aircraft would be available. But, the bigger challenge here is the maintenance of the aircraft, the logistics, the equipment - it [would be] extremely difficult to do this on Ukrainian territory. There are no bases, so perhaps airfields would have to be rebuilt. That is a big challenge and it would take months," Saks explained.

Saks added, that the current conditions in Ukraine, which are warmer than usual for winter, favor the Ukrainians as they limit Russia's ability to use its own heavy equipment.

"If Russia uses more heavy equipment, then the losses will immediately increase. But, Russia's main problem is still that they lack quality troops," Saks said.

However, Saks added, Vladimir Putin cannot stop the war or admit defeat, because that would be a death knell for all of Russia's current power elite.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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