The Russian nuclear threat against Ukraine was noticeably muted following discreet warnings from the West and even China, highlighting the potential dangers of wielding such a threat. The intricate tapestry of geopolitics once again revealed the weight of diplomacy, even in the darkest of times.
A Game of Nuclear Brinkmanship
In February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin ominously hinted at the possibility of launching a limited nuclear strike on Ukraine. This was shortly before an aggressive invasion that saw Russia annex four of Ukraine's regions.
Resolutely, Putin declared he would use "all means" necessary to safeguard these territorial gains. Max Seddon, the esteemed head of the Russian edition of the Financial Times, delved into the gravity of these declarations.
"Those threats prompted the US, UK, and France to vow retaliation with conventional weapons," Seddon noted, referencing information from both current and former officials. But it wasn’t just the West who voiced concerns.
An unexpected ally in caution emerged in the form of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. According to sources from the Financial Times, during his visit to Moscow in March 2023, Xi took it upon himself to personally warn Putin against resorting to nuclear measures.
In earlier times, experts only speculated about the West's potential conventional reaction to a Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine. NATO representatives hinted at a "physical response" but remained tight-lipped about the specifics.
Putin's Revelations and The Shift in Nuclear Posture
By the fall, there was a palpable shift in the tone from the Kremlin. Putin conceded that the utilization of nuclear weapons would neither serve political nor military objectives.
Consequently, he dramatically reduced the emphasis on Russia's atomic might in his discourses. However, this didn't mark the end of Russia's nuclear narrative. As Seddon pointed out, citing insights from Western experts, Russia has been employing nuclear threats as a deterrent to further Western military support for Ukraine.
This strategy includes provocative moves like ordering the installation of nuclear warheads in Belarus, Russia's western neighbor. More alarmingly, Putin initiated the de-ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
If pursued, this could potentially lead to the resurgence of nuclear testing, an act not seen since the dissolution of the USSR. The unfolding events shed light on the intricate balance of power and diplomacy in our modern world.
The omnipresent threat of nuclear weapons continues to shape geopolitical decisions, with leaders worldwide grappling with the immense responsibility such power entails.