Nov 2, 2022
Any use of nuclear weapons by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine would result in “the end of the Russian military,” a former US ambassador said.
Putin has committed himself to a war he can’t win and is “increasingly desperate,” Kurt Volker said in an interview with Lithuanian national broadcaster LRT, published Monday.
Volker, the US ambassador to NATO between 2008 and 2009 and a former special envoy to Ukraine, gave a damning assessment of Putin’s position over the war in Ukraine, which he said the Russian leader “doesn’t have the means to win.”
Amid Ukraine’s recapture of considerable amounts of territory in the country’s north and east in the early fall, Putin made chilling comments that raised the spectre of Russia launching a nuclear attack on Ukraine.
In September, as he announced the mobilization of a further 300,000 reservists to the offensive, Putin referenced the country’s modernized nuclear arsenal and added that its military will “use all the means at our disposal” if Russia were threatened.
“This is not a bluff,” he added.
Putin recently denied those comments were about nukes, and signaled that he would not deploy them, as the Associated Press reported. “We see no need for that,” he said, per the AP.
When asked about the potential for Putin to use nukes, Volker did not refer to Putin’s statement but said “We should be concerned that this is a possibility.”
Volker was also a special envoy to Ukraine between 2017 and 2019, when former President Donald Trump was in office. In 2019, he testified as part of Trump’s first impeachment.
US intelligence learned that senior Russian military leaders recently held discussions over using tactical nuclear weapons, as The New York Times reported.
Putin was not involved in the discussions, and it is unclear exactly when they were held, but the intelligence circulated the US government in mid-October, the Times reported.
Nonetheless, US intelligence has seen none of the preparations that would typically be made ahead of a nuclear strike, the report said.
Russia is estimated to have around 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons amid an even larger stockpile of bigger, strategic nukes.
Volker said that Putin using these weapons is not “the most likely scenario.”
“I think it will not achieve a military objective for Putin,” he added. “You can’t seize and hold territory if you make it radioactive. It would also damage his own forces; they’re not prepared.”
“They also know that there would be a devastating military response against Russian forces if they did it,” he said.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned in September that Russia would suffer “catastrophic consequences,” if it took that step.
Volker’s assessment mirrors that of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said in October that Russia’s army would be “annihilated” by the West’s military response — albeit a non-nuclear one — if Putin launched a nuclear weapon.
President Joe Biden has said it would be “irresponsible” to spell out exactly what the US response would amount to, as Politico reported.
Western leaders have generally not given specifics on how they would retaliate to a nuclear strike in Ukraine, but some have said that they would not use nuclear weapons in response to avoid escalation.
Volker said he believed there’s no realistic prospect of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
“I think that Putin has committed himself to a set of military objectives in Ukraine that he does not have the ability to achieve,” he said, adding that this puts Putin in a “very desperate situation” politically.