(NewsNation) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly signaled that he could resort to the use of nuclear weapons to protect perceived Russian gains in Ukraine.
In a speech last month, Putin threatened to use “all means available” to defend the newly annexed Ukrainian territories in a blunt attempt to force Ukraine and its Western allies to back off.
“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said Sept. 21, adding, “It’s not a bluff.”
Putin has also accused the West of discussing a potential nuclear attack on Russia.
“This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them,” he said.
Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine trudges into its eighth month. Putin’s room for maneuvering is narrowing and questions about his leadership have been simmering in Moscow.
His army has suffered humiliating defeats. Protests against mandatory military service have escalated. Thousands have been arrested in Russia over their dissent and hundreds of thousands fled the country’s draft, swarming to Russia’s bordering counties. Two Russians made it to Alaska, fleeing in a small boat, seeking asylum.
According to reports, a member of Putin’s inner circle has even voiced disagreement directly to the Russian president over his handling of the war.
Putin’s nuclear threats were described as a reflection of his growing desperation by Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.
“This is the last step for him, in the sense that this is a suicidal” move, Kolesnikov said. “If he’s ready for the step, it means that we are witnessing a dictator who is even worse than Stalin.”
Putin controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, including a new generation of hypersonic weapons and 10 times more tactical nuclear weapons than the West, according to Reuters.
Some say Putin could use smaller, tactical nuclear weapons to try to stave off military defeat.
During his speech, Putin said it was the U.S. who created a “precedent” by using nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II.
The U.S. and its allies have said they are taking Putin’s threats seriously.
President Joe Biden said the Russian leader is “not joking when he talks about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.”
The U.S. government recently purchased a significant supply of radiation-injury drugs following Putin’s nuclear threats.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the drugs were procured “to save lives following radiological and nuclear emergencies.”
Biden suggested the threat from Putin is real “because his military is — you might say — significantly underperforming.”
But the U.S. and its allies also said they will not yield to what they describe as blackmail to force the West to abandon Ukraine.
Ukraine as well has vowed to press its counteroffensive despite the Russian rhetoric.
Biden declared that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at the highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The 13-day showdown in 1962 that followed the U.S. discovery of the Soviet Union’s secret deployment of nuclear weapons to Cuba is regarded by experts as the closest the world has ever come to nuclear annihilation.
The president’s remarks, however, come after National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that, despite Moscow’s nuclear hints, the U.S. had seen no signs that Russia was imminently preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated Sullivan’s sentiment, saying, there is no new intelligence behind Biden’s warning.
White House officials said they have seen no change to Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in the alert posture of U.S. nuclear forces.
However, some observers have argued that NATO could strike Russia with conventional weapons if Putin presses the nuclear button.
Washington has not spelled out its likely response, but using a nuclear device would likely trigger a nuclear escalation.
Stanislav Belkovsky, a longtime political consultant with extensive contacts among the Russian ruling class, warned that Putin firmly believes that the U.S. and its allies wouldn’t dare to strike back if Russia used a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“If the U.S. believes that there is no psychological readiness for that, it’s mistaken,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.