Romney, in an opinion article for the New York Times, said that “Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon would unarguably be a redefining, reorienting geopolitical event,” adding: “We should imagine the unimaginable, specifically how we would respond militarily and economically to such a seismic shift in the global geopolitical terrain.”
There is little evidence to suggest that Russia is going to use a nuclear weapon in its conflict with Ukraine, as doing so would risk a significant escalation under the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. Several weeks ago, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson downplayed concerns Moscow may use nukes in a bid to avoid defeat in Ukraine, where Russian forces have struggled.
But Romney, 75, claimed that if Russian President Vladimir Putin “loses in Ukraine, he not only will have failed to achieve his life’s ambition to reverse what he sees as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century—the collapse of the Soviet Union—but he will also have permanently diminished Russia as a great power and reinvigorated its adversaries.”
Neither Putin nor other top Kremlin officials have said they would launch a nuclear strike in connection with the Ukraine war, although Russia’s leadership has often said they would respond with nuclear force if Russia’s existence is threatened.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said in May that Russia would use a nuclear weapon if conditions written into its military doctrine are met.
One of those says that Russia can use nuclear weapons if its enemies are also using them or using other weapons of mass destruction against Russian territories or allies. If Russia’s critical military or government sites are attacked, that could also trigger a nuclear response.
Romney, a former GOP presidential candidate in 2012, also suggested that the United States or NATO “could engage” in Ukraine and “potentially obliterat[e] Russia’s struggling military” if nuclear weapons are deployed.
As President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion military package Saturday to provide assistance to Ukraine, Western nations, Romney said, should continue to provide support to the country by sending weapons or other forms of aid in its fight against Russia.
It comes as Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines suggested that Russia may use a nuclear weapon if top officials believe they are losing the war.
“We’re supporting Ukraine, but also we don’t want to ultimately end up in World War III, and we don’t want to end up in a situation where actors are using nuclear weapons,” Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 10. “We perceive that as something that [Putin] is unlikely to do unless there is effectively an existential threat to his regime and to Russia from his perspective.
But in somewhat of a contrast to Romney’s comments, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) last week called on the White House to deescalate the conflict and guarantee that the United States won’t engage in a first-use nuclear strike against Russia. Markey called on the administration to announce a no-first-use during a Senate hearing with Haines.
“I think that, increasingly, people in our country and around the world are worried that this could escalate and that nuclear weapons could become involved,” Markey remarked. “So, from my perspective, I think it would be wise for our country to say flat out, ‘We will not use nuclear weapons if nuclear weapons have not been used against Ukraine or the United States.’”