In his attention-grabbing articlе, the estimable Sergei Karaganov proposes to stop mollycoddling the collective West, which is pumping up the Ukrainian army with modern weapons, and start moving quickly up the ladder of nuclear escalation, explicitly showing our readiness to deliver a “preventive defensive nuclear strike” on one of the European countries that sponsors the Kiev leadership. The country meant is Poland. If such an aggravation does not bring European leaders to reason, then a “group of countries” should be hit.
The Russian nuclear doctrine is enshrined in the Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence of June 2, 2020. It says very clearly: “The Russian Federation considers nuclear weapons solely a deterrent, the use of which is an extreme and forced measure, and makes all necessary efforts to reduce the nuclear threat and prevent an aggravation of interstate relations that can provoke military conflicts, including nuclear ones.” There are four scenarios (or combinations thereof) when Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons:
- a) if there is reliable information about the launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and (or) its allies;
- b) if the enemy uses nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against the territory of the Russian Federation and (or) its allies;
- c) if the enemy attacks critical state or military facilities of the Russian Federation, the damage of which will disrupt retaliatory actions by nuclear forces;
- d) if an act of aggression is committed against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, jeopardizing the very existence of the state.
So far, none of the scenarios in which the President of the Russian Federation can order the use of nuclear weapons has even shown the signs of practical realization. It’s another matter that the West is clearly engaging in verbal escalation, which so far has not met a symmetrical communicative response from Russian officials. For the time being, this verbal escalation is limited to an information confrontation aimed at checking the purely psychological reaction of the top official who makes decisions on the use of nuclear weapons―President Putin. No other officials in the country are invested with the power and responsibility to decide on the use of strategic weapons―either by the Constitution, or by relevant regulatory acts, or by presidential decrees.
It is worth emphasizing that the Russian nuclear doctrine was hammered out amid the Western countries’ constant offensive against our vital national interests, and it takes into account our readiness and ability to defend ourselves. In this sense, it is unambiguous, it does not allow wide interpretations, and it is practical and thoroughly thought-out.
Speaking of the verbal escalation, we do not mean the latest speech by former low-ranking American official, Michael Rubin, now an employee of the American Enterprise Institute, in which he suggested transferring tactical nuclear weapons to Ukraine. And this is not about the hypothetical readiness of the United States to arm the Ukrainian armed forces with F-16 Block 40 aircraft, some of which can be adjusted for the use of B-61 unguided nuclear bombs. Rather, we are talking about the information campaign in European and partly American mass media, which had gained significant momentum by the middle of last year as Western commentators started to talk―vigorously and imperatively―about when (not “if”) Russia would finally use its tactical nuclear weapons against Kiev, thereby urging the Russian Federation to step over the taboo on pro-active use of nuclear weapons.
The purpose of this information confrontation campaign is quite clear: not just to provoke a public response in the Russian media or the expert community, but to exert psychological pressure on the Russian foreign policy leadership and lower the threshold of sensitivity to such decisions.
So far, they have not succeeded: the Russian leadership’s approach to the use of national nuclear capabilities remains effectively limited by the doctrinal framework, a pragmatic stance of the chief executive on this issue, and a responsible attitude towards military escalation.
According to some estimates, including those by active high-ranking Russian diplomats and other officials engaged in international relations, the point is not that Russia’s limited and preventive nuclear strike (for example, against Poland) will not cause a similar reaction from the United States and its satellites. The point is that lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and using them against non-nuclear states, no matter how aggressive their anti-Russian policy and agenda may be, we will not pacify the Western world, but will increase the probability of the use of nuclear weapons by countries that are not officially in the “nuclear club,” such as Pakistan, India, Israel, or North Korea, simply because this will irreversibly become the norm of military-political confrontation.
Moreover, by talking in practical terms about a preventive nuclear strike in self-defense “for all the bad things that were done to us and in the name of all the good things that we can achieve,” we will begin to play by the rules imposed on us, whether we wish so or not, instead of consistently taking pragmatic military-political steps, demonstrating the flaws of these rules and completely dismantling them in the future, jointly with other responsible members of the international community. We must think not about how to turn Poland into a nuclear desert (that is, literally chop off an unreasonable child’s head for breaking windows in your house), but about how to build a world order in which the very idea of using military force and military-political pressure to impose a “rules-based order” will become impossible and condemned worldwide.
It is true though that Russia has made it clear to its European and American counterparts that if the West engages its conventional forces directly against the Russian troops on the ground (for example, our troops are fired at by the Polish army if it occupies territories in Western Ukraine, or attempts to invade Kaliningrad, or carries out military operations against Belarus), Russia will enact its national nuclear deterrence doctrine in full compliance with the spirit and letter of Russian legislation (and reading it carefully is a good and necessary exercise for the relevant military-political planning bodies of NATO countries). And in this case, our response will be quick.
Paradoxical as this observation may be, today NATO countries are ostentatiously proactive in such a subtle matter that admits no error as escalating the situation further. It seems that the Russian foreign policy leadership is late in responding to these initiatives. In fact, the demonstrative fussiness in the collective West only confirms the loss of initiative, but haste always leads to dramatic miscalculations.
We should not deprive our foreign “partners” of the privilege to make all the mistakes for which they are trying to program us through sophisticated and multifaceted moral and psychological operations (including through the English-language media space they control) designed to undermine our restraint and self-possession.