Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin

By Emanuele Scimia

March 2 2022

The move by the Russian president caused a stir, including in China. Moscow has 5,977 nuclear warheads. For Savelyev, “Putin acts against all logic. He’s unpredictable”. He is sending “a signal to NATO,” says Kortunov. It seems that no one in the Kremlin can stop the Russian leader.

ROME – Vladimir Putin’s decision to bring Russia’s “deterrence” forces, including nuclear forces, to a “special” mode of combat duty should not be underestimated, this according to Russian experts contacted by AsiaNews.

Putin’s order came on Sunday, 27 February, causing a stir in the international community. Analysts note that the language used does not make it clear to what alert level Russia’s nuclear arsenal has been raised.

For Western governments, this move is more of a political message than a real possibility that nuclear weapons will be used in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine – or against anyone helping Kyiv to block the Russian invasion.

China has also shown some concern. Yesterday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, urged all parties to remain calm and avoid further escalation.

The Federation of the American Scientist estimates that Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, against 5,428 for the United States, to which must be added 290 for France and 225 for Great Britain, Washington’s NATO allies.

China has 350, but unlike most of those in Russia and the United States, they are not ready for use.

Under the New START treaty, renewed for five years by Washington and Moscow in February 2021, the United States and Russia can hold 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons each (a long-range bomber is counted as a warhead). However, the numbers rise significantly if tactical atomic weapons are also counted.

According to Alexander Savelyev, chief researcher fellow at the Moscow-based Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, every move of Putin must be taken seriously.

An adviser to the START-1 negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991, Savelyev notes that most experts – including himself – did not believe that the Russian president would ever start a war against Ukraine.

“But it happened. This means that Putin acts against all logic. He’s unpredictable if not to say more.”

For Savelyev, the Russian leader is now cornered, while his war adventure against Ukraine is not going according to plan. Putin “understands it and probably now he is in a [state of] deep depression.”

For the Russian academic, the fact that he has raised the spectre of nuclear weapons is evidence of that.

Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), speculates that Putin is sending a signal to NATO: “If you interfere, we can escalate.”

Faced with the atomic threat, many observers wonder if anyone in the upper echelons of Russian government can stop Putin.

Kortunov is quick to answer: “I don’t think there is anybody in the Kremlin who could overrule him.”

Savelyev agrees. “I’m afraid nobody at a top government level can stop him from taking further decisions. Maybe it can be done at an executive level, but we can only hope.” – Asia News