Russia explains why it won’t use nukes in Ukraine

Moscow says its nuclear doctrine is very clear and the current conflict in Ukraine does not meet any of its criteria

The allegations about Russia threatening to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine are “untenable and baseless,” the head of Moscow’s delegation to the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, Andrey Belousov, said on Friday in New York. 

“This is impossible since Russian doctrinal guidelines strictly limit emergency situations in which the use of nuclear weapons is hypothetically possible, namely in response to aggression involving weapons of mass destruction, or in response to aggression involving conventional weapons, where the very existence of the state is threatened,” Belousov explained.

“None of these hypothetical scenarios is relevant to the situation in Ukraine,” he stated.

The Russian diplomat also rejected insinuations about Moscow placing its nuclear deterrent on “high alert,” explaining that the current state of “increased vigilance,” with extra personnel on duty at strategic command posts, was “completely different” from the actual “state of high alert of strategic nuclear forces.”

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While he did not name the accusers, Belousov’s response comes after the Ukrainian delegation to the NPT conference on Wednesday accused Moscow of “nuclear terrorism” and “openly threatening the world with its ability to use nuclear weapons,” while citing rhetoric by the “Russian media, think-tanks and experts.” On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also accused Russia of “reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling,” to “those supporting Ukraine’s self-defense.”

Belousov argued that any warnings about a “serious risk of nuclear war” ever voiced by actual Russian officials in the context of the Ukrainian crisis were always directed at NATO, as a way to deter Western countries from direct aggression, as they “dangerously balance on the edge of a direct armed confrontation with Russia.”

In his letter to participants of the NPT conference on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated that there would be no winners in a nuclear war, and it must never be allowed to happen.

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US President Joe Biden in turn declared this week that Washington is ready to expeditiously negotiate “a new arms control framework” with Moscow. However, according to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the US has yet to come up with any proposals regarding an agreement that could potentially replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. 

The landmark New START remains the only major arms control agreement between Moscow and Washington still in force. In early 2021, the deal was on the brink of expiration, but it was ultimately salvaged shortly after Biden’s inauguration, when Washington finally agreed to Moscow’s calls to prolong the deal without any preconditions. It is currently set to expire in 2026.