Video: Use of tactical nukes is unlikely in Ukraine

Some days it feels as though the elderly people who’re driving humanity towards extinction are nostalgic for the existential terror of their youth, so they decided to bring back the constant fear of imminent nuclear annihilation. While none of us can predict exactly where this is going to go from here, I think this breakdown is useful and somewhat comforting.

The TL:DW is that Putin knows that if he were to use tactical nukes in Ukraine, Russia’s remaining allies would turn against them, and the US would destroy all of their assets outside of their geographical borders. The US would also probably give Ukraine better weapons – ones that can reach inside Russia. More than that, because of how this war has gone, there’s no longer any question at all whether Russia has the military capacity to stop any of that. Basically, nukes are all they have, and they’re not something that can “win” this war for Putin in any meaningful sense.

Again, that does not mean that we’re safe. I’m comfortable with helping Ukraine defend itself, but not supporting an invasion of Russia. I think it’s unlikely that Putin would use nukes unless he felt it was the only way to hold on to power, and I think it’s good to avoid reaching that point. Triggering nuclear war would be a far greater injustice than allowing an asshole like Putin to die of old age, still holding on to what little power he has. As the saying goes, it ain’t over till it’s over.

Until then, we keep doing what we can to make the world better.


  1. lorn says

    Let’s assume Russia loses big and Putin doesn’t resort to nukes:
    Russia can reasonably claim to still being a major power (We still have nukes you are going to have to assume ‘work’.) and based upon a certain level of restraint that they are worthy of some respect.

    If they use them and they work reasonably well they are the scum that used nukes to cover up a war they still lose. You see nuclear weapons are, in the end, just really powerful explosives. Ukraine uses dispersed forces so yes, you can wipe out a group, or two, but it isn’t going to be decisive. Even a large bomb into Kiev isn’t going to accomplish much. Ukraine can still soldier on.

    There is another version. The one where the missile/s and/or warheads don’t work. This has all the down side of use. But also Russia loses its major power card.

    It is also the butt of a vicious series of stinging joked based on the comprehensive uselessness and incompetence of its military. The one where it is noted that the Russian air force can’t win against even a minor power; their army is a bunch of clowns, their navy can’t even take a small island, and their vaunted strategic military forces need to back to pop guns.

    IMHO, the nukes best serve Russia unused. But that’s just me.

  2. says

    I think you’re spot-on, Lorn.

    My primary area of concern is with the rumors that Putin has cancer or something like it. Authoritarian leaders desperate to make their mark before their death are… worrying to me.

  3. Dunc says

    The fundemental problem I have with pretty much any kind of reasoning about what Putin is or isn’t likely to do is this: right up until he actually did it, I figured there was absolutely no way he’d be stupid and / or insane enough to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (And I do not believe I was unusual in this.) Then he did. Therefore, all of my prior assumptions about how stupid and / or insane Putin is are worthless, making it virtually impossible to reason about what he might or might not do. There’s pretty much no level of “this is obviously a really terrible idea that is almost certain to seriously adversely affect his interests” that he hasn’t already crossed.

  4. says

    It’s a fair point, Dunc. The reasoning relies on the assumption that nuclear weapons are a global taboo. I also worry what someone like Putin might do in response to humiliation.

  5. says

    One thing I will say is that I’m willing to bet there are people close to Putin who are worried about him, and considering whether they wouldn’t do better with someone else in charge.

    I also don’t think we can predict what will or will not come of that.

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