War in Ukraine: What you need to know about the tactical nuclear arsenal, the CIA’s feared Putin threat

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The cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Russian fleet, sank in the Black Sea on Thursday. A “hard blow” for Russia, which raises fears of reprisals. The use of tactical nuclear weapons is particularly feared. What there is to know

While Russian television is already talking about a “Third World War” after the sinking of its symbolic cruiser Moskva, international actors fear a new escalation of the conflict. The threat of a tactical nuclear weapon is being felt.

A lighter explosive charge

Unlike a so-called “strategic” nuclear weapon, the “tactical” has a lighter explosive charge. This makes this weapon usable for targeted attacks, for example on a battlefield, from tanks, rocket batteries or from naval warships. It is carried by a vector with a range of less than 5,500 kilometers.

Its power can vary from 1 to 100 kilotons. For comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons.

2,000 tactical nuclear warheads in Russia

Russia has, according to the JDD.

William Alberque of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) assured AFP that “the political cost would be monstrous. He would lose what little support he has left. The Indians would give in, and so would the Chinese. I do not think so. Putin will.”

Therefore, in addition to the risk of reaching his own territory, Putin could lose the support of his major Chinese ally, whose doctrine is never to use nuclear weapons first.

Fear of Putin’s “despair”

The use of this weapon had already been mentioned at the beginning of the conflict. In the current context, CIA chief William Burns, quoted by AFP, says it is possible that “President Putin and the Russian leadership will despair from a military perspective at the setbacks they have suffered so far. He qualified his statements by saying that he “did not find any concrete indications that could reinforce these concerns”.

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A concern echoed by Volodymyr Zelenskyy this Friday, who judged that “the whole world should be worried”.

Mathieu Boulègue of UK think tank Chatham House told AFP in late March that “there is a real risk at the vertical level. They urgently need military victories to convert into political leverage. A chemical weapon would not change the face of war. A tactical nuclear weapon that leveled a Ukrainian city, yes. It’s unlikely, but not impossible. And that would be the collapse of 70 years of nuclear deterrence theory.”

The aim: to demoralize the opponent

In reality, the nuclear threat is often aimed at demoralizing the enemy and using “escalation for de-escalation”. For Pavel Luzin, an analyst at the Moscow think tank Riddle, Russia could use a tactical nuclear weapon “to prevent the enemy from continuing to fight”.

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The use of nuclear weapons, whether strategic or tactical, would in any case have disastrous consequences and would be a first since August 9, 1945 and the bombing of Nagasaki.

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