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Former US military commander fears Putin will use nuclear weapons if Ukraine reclaims territory

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  • Western officials and experts warn Putin could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine if he becomes desperate.
  • Ukraine is in the midst of a ferocious counterattack and is rapidly reclaiming territory.
  • retired brig. General Kevin Ryan told an insider that he was “more concerned about the possibility of nuclear weapons being used.”

Over the course of the nearly seven-month war in Ukraine, Western officials and Russian experts have consistently expressed concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin may resort to the use of nuclear weapons if he becomes desperate. I have expressed

Retired US Army brig. General Kevin Ryan, a former military attaché to Russia and a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said more about Putin’s potential use of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal at a time when Ukraine is rapidly regaining territory. Said he was worried. A lightning counterattack that began less than a month later.

“I was thinking about Putin’s pressure to do something dramatic, but it got me thinking about the nuclear trigger again,” Ryan told Insider.

Ryan said the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk would demand Russia’s membership, and if accepted, it would mean that “the ongoing fighting in Ukraine would suddenly become ‘inside Russia’.”

After failing to capture Kyiv early in the war, Russia shifted its focus to the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, comprising Donetsk and Luhansk. Many of the fighting during the war occurred in Donbass.

The Biden administration has warned that Russia could try to annex Donetsk and Luhansk through a “fake referenda,” and if that happens, Ryan said there could be immediate repercussions. rice field.

“For one thing, Putin was able to solve the problem of military personnel, because now all conscripts (more than 35% of the army) can be mobilized, because this is no longer a war abroad,” he said. Said.

“The second development is the sudden crossing of the red line against fighting on Russian soil,” he continued. “NATO weapons fight and fire inside Russia, and most importantly, the Russian state comes under direct attack. It will be the trigger.”

Ryan, who warned in March about Putin’s possible use of “miniature nuclear weapons” or tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, said he was “even more concerned about the possibility of nuclear weapons being used now” than before.

“When you add the possibility of the Russian military losing hard-won territory to Ukrainian forces at the same time, it will put pressure on Putin to do something drastic,” Ryan added.

The former general told Insider that he shared these thoughts with senior US officials.

A Russian YAR nuclear ballistic missile mounted on a mobile launcher passes over Red Square during the rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia on May 6, 2018.

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

“The reaction will be overwhelming.”

Recently, Russia ceded huge profits to the Ukrainian army. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had recaptured more than 2,300 square miles of her in the east and south of the country so far this month. This is an amazing amount of territory. Until recently, the conflict was widely characterized as a war of attrition with little movement on either side.

Russia, which has witnessed considerable troop losses in Ukraine, initially mistakenly assumed that Moscow would be conquered in a matter of days. In August, the Pentagon said it estimated Russia had suffered as many as 80,000 casualties.

As Ukraine forces Russian troops into retreat, Russian propaganda, which has fully endorsed the war on state-run news channels, is struggling to keep a rosy picture of what is happening on the battlefield. Local Russian lawmakers have called for President Putin to be removed from power and charged with treason over the war.

In this context, there are serious concerns about what Putin will do if he feels cornered. Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert shortly after the invasion, but he has been accused of nuclear threats by Western officials. Senior Ukrainian military officials, including Ukrainian military commander-in-chief General Valery Zardini, wrote an op-ed last week warning that a “limited” nuclear war with Russia cannot be ruled out.

But not everyone is convinced that Putin would do something as drastic as using nuclear weapons to achieve his objectives in Ukraine.

“I don’t think Putin would use tactical nuclear weapons in this situation, even if he lost, even if he lost everything in Ukraine,” said Robert Ortung, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. told an insider.

Ortung said of Putin’s and Russia’s nuclear weapons, “He is clearly going to threaten to use them.”

But using such weapons would “take war to the next level” and that Putin would be “too afraid of what the reaction would be,” he said. I know it’s overwhelming.”

“There’s some uncertainty there. But my best guess is that he’s not going to use them,” Ortung said.

Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine could potentially trigger a military response from the United States, which could lead to a direct conflict between Russia and NATO (30-member alliance). Several NATO member states, including the United States, have their own nuclear weapons.

Even if Russia were defeated in Ukraine or withdrew its troops, Putin could explain it by blaming NATO and the US to save face.

A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile passes through Red Square during the Victory Day parade marking the end of World War II in Moscow on May 9, 2009.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

“red line”

Although George Barros, a military analyst at the War Research Institute, told insiders he could not rule out the possibility that the Kremlin might decide to use tactical nuclear weapons or another weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in Ukraine. , he assesses, “that risk is low.”

“The problem for Russia is that it needs a cohesive, cohesive and highly moralized force to properly exploit the situation created by tactical nuclear weapons,” Barros said. “At the moment, I don’t think the Russian conventional army has the capability or the morale to do that.”

Mr. Barros said that Russian forces deployed in Ukraine were “clearly not in the best of shape to be prepared for such an operation,” and that Russia’s use of weapons of mass destruction at this time was a military threat. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Barros said there are also “strategic-level implications” for Russia to consider, and that using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine would “set the line” for Russia’s western enemies.

“Western powers must have promised the Kremlin behind closed doors that they would retaliate or respond in an appropriate manner to the unprecedented use of this type of weapon,” Barros said.