Putin’s Nuclear Threat Against the US Is Terrorism

Putin’s Nuclear Threat Against the US Is Terrorism
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on Feb. 17, 2023. (Vladimir Astapkovich/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Anders Corr
In Vladimir Putin’s latest act of desperation, he has again threatened the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and by extension, the United States as its lead member, with nuclear weapons. The U.S. nuclear umbrella covers all NATO nations, so a nuclear threat against NATO is a nuclear threat against the United States.

On June 16, Putin noted that NATO countries supply Ukraine with heavy weaponry, such as U.S., British, and German tanks. He implicitly threatened NATO by musing, in this context, about Russia’s right to use nuclear weapons when the existence of the Russian state is threatened. Putin noted that Russia has more nuclear weapons than NATO countries and that there is a “serious danger” of NATO supplying additional heavy weaponry to Ukraine, such as fighter jets, and then being drawn into direct conflict with Russia.

Putin went further than mere threats, claiming he had already moved nuclear weapons closer to NATO countries.

“The first nuclear warheads have been delivered to Belarus, but just the first ones,” he told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Putin made his threats as the United States and allies were gathering in neighboring Lithuania, a NATO member, for their annual meeting.
The Belarussian dictator, a near vassal of Putin, said that the new nuclear weapons on his territory are three times more powerful than the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. While the United States and allies have shown remarkable restraint in moving nuclear weapons out of Europe after the Cold War, and attempting to decrease Western nuclear arsenals, Moscow and Beijing have moved in the opposite direction.

Putin said that Russia’s use of nuclear weapons is “possible if there is a threat to our territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty, to the existence of the Russian state.”

He said NATO countries know that Russia has more nuclear weapons than they do, “and they keep telling us to start negotiations on reductions. Well, you know what? They can shove it.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin oversees the training of the strategic deterrence forces, troops responsible for responding to threats of nuclear war, via a video link in Moscow on Oct. 26, 2022. (Alexei Babushkin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin oversees the training of the strategic deterrence forces, troops responsible for responding to threats of nuclear war, via a video link in Moscow on Oct. 26, 2022. (Alexei Babushkin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

This choice of language and failure to lower the nuclear temperature shows remarkable irresponsibility given the human lives at stake.

As of January 2021, according to the Arms Control Association, Russia had a total of 6,250 nuclear warheads. The United States had over 5,500, Britain 220, and France 290. After the Cold War, the United States removed all but 100 of its nuclear weapons from Europe.

Putin singled out plans by some NATO countries to send U.S. fighter jets to Ukraine. The Biden administration has finally green-lighted that request. Other countries called for fast-tracking Ukraine’s NATO application, which Biden is resisting, in another show of U.S. restraint.

Russian state media followed up on Putin’s threats by emphasizing that nuclear weapons should be used against NATO countries directly.

Loose talk of nuclear weapons by Putin and his state media normalizes this most destructive weaponry. In the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the unconscionable threat of their use by a dictator against a neighboring democracy, such brinkmanship amounts to nuclear terrorism.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to Putin’s threats by attempting to calm the waters, saying there is no indication of an imminent use of nuclear weapons by Moscow and, therefore, no need for the United States to change its nuclear posture.
Former CIA Chief of Russia Operations Steve Hall told CNN that Putin skillfully uses his nuclear weapons for “psychological and propaganda purposes.” He “knows we get worried in the West when he starts … nuclear saber-rattling.”

Putin desperately wants NATO to stop its expansion, for example, by rejecting Ukraine and Georgia as members. His nuclear threats and invasion of both countries make it more difficult to admit them, since admission requires a lack of territorial disputes by the applicant.

However, Putin is shooting himself in the foot. His aggression also increases the incentives for Ukraine, Georgia, and many other countries, including in Asia, to join NATO and strengthen the organization.

“Putin is why NATO will raise its target for military spending; why it’ll lock arms with its newest member, Finland; why it’ll embrace Sweden as the aspiring 32nd; and why it’ll discuss whether and how to embrace Ukraine into its fold,” writes Andreas Kluth in Bloomberg.

Kluth said that the movement of Russian nuclear weapons so close to NATO borders in Belarus is a form of “psychological terrorism.”

“In the 1980s, NATO stationed US missiles in West Germany, not to escalate, but to get Moscow to stop doing so,” Kluth wrote. “If Putin now places nukes in Belarus, America should move some of its warheads to the eastern NATO countries that feel most threatened—that is, Poland and the Baltic states.”

Putin’s nuclear threats against the West are not the only egregious wrongs of Russia recently.

New reports of Russian soldiers castrating Ukrainian soldiers are shocking the public.
In occupied parts of Georgia, a former Soviet Republic south of Russia, Russian soldiers are gradually increasing their territory by first placing markers, then digging ditches in the fields of neighboring Georgian farmers, posting signs, and finally stretching barbed wire and building fences or walls through entire towns.

They follow the “salami-slicing” playbook of incrementalism, used successfully by the Chinese Communist Party, for example, in mainland China, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea, since the 1930s.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere are unconscionable forms of aggression under a veil of propaganda about Moscow’s defense in the face of NATO’s peaceful expansion. Putin and his supporters must be held to account as terrorists and international war criminals. Anything less fails to impose accountability for some of the most heinous of criminal acts, thus incentivizing their further commission.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea)" (2018).
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