Russia’s war against Ukraine has been marked by many mistaken judgments. Russian leaders began the war with ambitious objectives well beyond the capabilities of their fighting forces, underestimating the determination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the competency and valor of Ukrainian forces, and the willingness of NATO members to supply Ukraine with significant military capabilities. Facing these obstacles, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers have frequently resorted to issuing threats of nuclear escalation to compensate for reversals and disappointments at the front.
This rocket diplomacy is not entirely new for Russia; Putin has been referencing Russia’s high-end nuclear capabilities — and his willingness to use them under certain circumstances – since at least 2007. Nevertheless, Russia’s cavalier use of nuclear coercive diplomacy is a misguided tactic, and it has dangerous implications for future international relations and Russia’s own national security policy.
The above excerpt was originally published in Just Security.
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