As terrifying as the nuclear threats coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin are, we Americans need to put them in context. While Russia’s ability to strike with nuclear weapons against the west is considerable, it is nothing compared to that of the U.S. Put differently, Russia could inflict great damage on the west and the U.S. with nuclear strikes, but Russia would be destroyed by the response, bombed back to the stone age. And there’s no doubt that Putin and his oligarchs would be instantly killed.
Putin does, of course, know the threat. So do his fellow despots. So as long as Putin and his associates are acting rationally, we can rest assured that they will not resort to nuclear strikes against the U.S. But evidence that the rulers of Russia are not sound in their thinking is manifest, especially in their decision to invade Ukraine in the first place. The fact that the war has gone against them in so many ways shows how poorly they understood their own military vulnerability. And we can’t rule out the use of small-yield tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield if the war continues to go against Russia.
So Russia’s nuclear threat continues. We and other western nations, including Ukraine, must counter Russia’s military threat and make it unmistakably clear that resort to nuclear means will be ruinous for Russia. That might mean assuring that tactical nuclear weapons are available to Ukraine in the event that Russia resorts to them.