WASHINGTON – When Vladimir V. Putin announced Sunday that he was placing his nuclear forces on “special combat readiness” — a state of high alert reminiscent of some of the most dangerous times of the Cold War – President Biden and his aides had a choice.
They were able to match this move and send American forces into Defcon 3 – known to audiences as a time when the Air Force launched bombers, and nuclear bunkers and submarines were placed in a state of emergency. high alarm state. Or the president could largely ignore it, sending aides portraying Putin as once again posing a threat, threatening Armageddon for a war he started without provocation.
For now, at least, Mr. Biden has chosen to de-escalate. The US ambassador to the United Nations reminded the Security Council on Sunday afternoon that Russia was “not threatened” and mocked Mr Putin for “another unnecessary and escalation that threatens us all”. The White House has made it clear that America’s own vigilance has not changed.
But for many in the administration, who spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity, it was a stark reminder of how quickly the Ukraine crisis can turn into a head-to-head superpower confrontation. how – and how it could happen, as Mr. Putin examines how far he can go and threatens to use state-of-the-art weapons to get there.
And his outburst has highlighted once again the question, throughout the US intelligence community, about the state of mind of the Russian leader, a man previously described as pragmatic, calculating and cunning. cunning. Former director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., today told the public what some officials have said privately since the Russian leader began accusing Ukraine of genocide and declaring the country the is developing its own nuclear weapons.
“Personally, I think he’s unremarkable,” Clapper said on CNN. “I worry about his acumen and balance.”
Others wondered if Mr. Putin wanted to create that impression, to add to Washington’s insecurity. Similar concerns led to Mr. Biden’s decision not to let Mr. Biden, in Delaware over the weekend, respond to Mr. Putin’s threats. For the second time this week, Putin reminded the world and Washington that he has a huge arsenal of weapons and might be tempted to use it. But what makes the latest nuclear explosion remarkable is that it was staged for television, when Putin told generals he was acting because of Western “aggressive comments” about Ukraine. Russia’s highest-ranking military officer, Valery Gerasimov, sat dumbfounded as Putin gave the order, leaving some wondering what he was thinking and how he might react.
Graham T. Allison of Harvard University, whose work on the Kennedy Administration’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “The Nature of the Decision,” has been read by generations of international relations students. — and many of the national security staff surrounded Mr. Biden today. Putin said that Putin’s citation of “aggressive comments” as a justification for putting one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals on alert seemed both disproportionate and confusing. . “Does not make any sense.”
Professor Allison, who worked on a project to disarm thousands of nuclear weapons that once belonged to the Soviet Union, centered on Ukraine, said the incident “adds to anxiety that Putin’s ability to grasp reality is not good enough.” may be loosened.”
Now the question is how will General Gerasimov translate Putin’s vague order of “special combat readiness” into action. The answer will be clear in the next day or two.
A massive nuclear detector run by the United States and its allies keeps an eye on Russia’s nuclear forces, and experts say they wouldn’t be surprised to see Russian bombers in the air. out of hangars and loaded with nuclear weapons, or nuclear-packed submarines. weapons leave port and go to sea.
Both Russia and the US conduct exercises that repeat different levels of nuclear alert, so the weapons of these moves are well understood by both sides. Deviations from practice will almost certainly be noticeable.
Nuclear forces on the ground – intercontinental ballistic missiles kept in silos by both nations – are at the ready, underpinning a “joint destruction” strategy that avoids exchanges nuclear exchange even during the most intense times of the Cold War.
Whatever one might think of Putin’s remarks, the decision to put forces on alert amid unusually tense tensions over the Ukraine invasion is highly unusual. It comes just days after he warned the United States and other NATO powers to stay out of the conflict, adding that “the consequences will be like you’ve never seen in your entire history.”
It ended, at least for now, discussions between Russia and the United States about what they should do for four years, when the remaining nuclear treaty between the two countries, known as New START, expired. force. The treaty limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic weapons, down from the tens of thousands at the height of the Cold War. But that doesn’t include the smaller, tactical weapons designed for use on the battlefield, a major concern in the current crisis. Just as Mr. Putin announced last week that the US plans to place such weapons on Ukrainian territory – one of the many reasons justifying his invasion – US officials are concerned that the US Mr. Putin is to bring them into Ukraine, if he succeeds. take over the country, and in Belarus.
Until last week, the two nations had been meeting regularly to discuss new arms control regimes, including reviving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which President Trump abandoned last year. 2019. But last week the US said it was pausing those talks.
The immediate concern is that the high alert level, by design, relaxes the protections for nuclear weapons, making them possible for use at random or by design.
In recent years, Russia has adopted a doctrine that lowers the threshold for using nuclear weapons and makes public threats to unleash its power in deadly atomic attacks.
Understanding Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is the root cause of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be inside its natural sphere of influence, and it became irritated by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of it joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is also not included in this category, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
“That’s what he does,” Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a global policy think tank in Washington, said in an interview. “It is a sword slashing with words. We’ll see where he goes with it. This war is only 4 days old and he has made nuclear threats twice. “
Kristensen noted that in 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea, the part of southern Ukraine that juts out into the Black Sea, the Russian president also raised the possibility that his forces could switch to nuclear weapons. . He recounted that when Putin was asked how he would respond to Western retaliatory sanctions, he “said he was ready to put his nuclear forces on alert”.
Putin’s statement on Sunday came hours after Europe and the US announced new sanctions, including banning some Russian banks from using the financial messaging system SWIFT, a payment system international accounts and crippled Russia’s central bank’s ability to stabilize the falling ruble.
Matthew Kroenig, a professor of government and foreign services at Georgetown University who specializes in nuclear strategy, says there are many instances in history where nuclear powers have threatened to unleash their arsenals against each other. He pointed at The Berlin Crisis the late 1950s, Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a border war between the Soviet Union and China in 1969, Arab-Israeli War 1973, and a war between India and Pakistan in 1999.
He also noted that Mr. Trump had made similar threats against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after his armed forces carried out series of long-range missile tests. In his first year in office, in 2017, Mr Trump threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
Putin’s outburst reminded many nuclear experts of one of Trump’s tweets, in which he noted: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just declared that ‘The nuclear button is always on the table. his job.’ Will someone from his depletion and food shortage mode please inform him that I also have a Nuclear Button, but it is much larger and more powerful than his, and my Button works. move! ”
Mr. Trump later insisted the threat was calculated and that it brought Kim to the negotiating table for a series of three high-level meetings between the two leaders. However, negotiations have collapsed, and Kim’s nuclear stockpile is now significantly larger, by most unclassified estimates, than it was before Trump’s threat.
Dr. Kroenig noted that “nuclear-armed states cannot resist nuclear war because it would be in danger of extinction, but they can and do threaten it,” he said today. Sunday. “They play nuclear chicken, raising the risk of war in the hope that the other side will back down and say, ‘Geez, this is not worth the end of nuclear war. ”
The threats are unlikely to come to fruition unless consistent with evidence that nuclear weapons are being removed from storage and ready for action, said Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.
“Unless we see that,” said Mr. Kristensen, “it’s melodramatic – it’s madman ingenuity.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/27/us/politics/putin-nuclear-alert-biden-deescalation.html Putin declares nuclear warning and Biden seeks to de-escalate