Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a number of recent threats alluding to his willingness to use nuclear weapons — but should he pull the trigger, his own military might not obey him, according to a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.
That’s because the Russian forces likely know what consequences await them if they do, Kurt Volker told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview, airing Sunday.
“He’s been told very clearly by the United States, by NATO, that any use of nuclear weapons — any use — would be met with a devastating response. The military knows that and believes it,” Volker said.
“I think it’s questionable whether, even if they were given the order, they would decide to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon. Because they know the consequences on themselves.”
If the Russian forces know the potential ramifications of firing a nuclear weapon, Volker said Putin likely knows that, too — and he “might be cautious about giving an order that’s not followed.”
Volker’s comments come as Moscow has ramped up its nuclear rhetoric in recent weeks, as a fierce Ukrainian counteroffensive has pushed Russian forces back in a series of embarrassing defeats. In a bid to slow the setbacks, Putin illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions and ordered a partial mobilization of troops to the regions.
In response, many Russian residents have fled the country to avoid being forced to fight.
All in all, while Putin “has made it clear he is going to fight till the end,” Volker said, “we know he doesn’t have the means to do it.”
“They’re having to retreat. They are pressing people into military service who don’t want to go. When they announced this mobilization, more people left the country than were mobilized,” he said.
“They have tremendous economic problems now because of the global sanctions that have been put in place.”
But as the Russian leader finds himself increasingly backed into a corner with the war he started in February, Putin has also upped his nuclear rhetoric — cautioning on Sept. 21 that he means it when he says he’s willing to defend Russia against what he calls “nuclear blackmail” from western powers.
The comments prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to warn that the world faces the biggest risk of nuclear Armageddon since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
“It may be true because we’ve been thankfully very, very far away from any nuclear event. I still think now it is very unlikely,” Volker said in response to the increased concerns of nuclear war.
“But you can’t say the risk is zero, because Putin has been acting irrationally.”
If Putin looks at the situation rationally, Volker said Putin would know that Russia “would be annihilated if he used strategic nuclear weapons.”
It would also render Ukraine, the land he claims to want to absorb into Russia, uninhabitable, Volker said, so in reality the Russian leader has been left with few options.
“Putin cannot take and hold territory on the ground anymore. (His) forces are being pushed back. So the only thing he can do is lob bombs and missiles at Ukrainian cities, largely unguided, large, largely dumb bombs that are killing civilians,” he said.
“This is just getting worse and worse — and the more he tries to keep going, the worse it is for Russia.”
— with files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea