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Mar 13, 2024, 4:46pm EDT
Europe
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Semafor Signals

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Putin warns that Russia is prepared to use nuclear weapons if threatened

Insights from The New York Times, CNN, and Reuters

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President Vladimir Putin speaks with Director General of Rossiya Segodnya media group Dmitry Kiselyov during an interview in Moscow, Russia, on March 12, 2024.
Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS
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Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stark warning Wednesday, saying that Moscow is prepared for a nuclear war if there is a threat to Russia’s sovereignty or independence.

However, when asked if he has considered using nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine, he responded that “there has never been such a need.”

“From a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready,” Putin told state media outlets in a television interview. “I don’t think that here everything is rushing to it [nuclear confrontation], but we are ready for this.”

The Russian president also said that the U.S. sending troops to Russia or Ukraine — which the Biden administration has stressed it does not plan to do — would significantly escalate the conflict.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

White House feared use of nuclear weapons early on in Ukraine war

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Sources:  
The New York Times, CNN

Washington has insisted since the beginning of the war that it sees no change to Moscow’s posture on deploying nuclear weapons. However, The New York Times reported that in October 2022, the White House was worried the Kremlin might actually use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, with the CIA saying the likelihood of their use may have been above 50%. That potential flashpoint has passed, but, The Times reported, “officials described those weeks as a glimpse of a terrifying new era in which nuclear weapons were back at the center of superpower competition.”

Similarly, CNN reported that the Biden administration began rigorously preparing for Moscow to carry out a nuclear strike on Ukraine, in what would be the first use of an atomic weapon since the U.S. attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost eight decades earlier.

“I don’t think many of us coming into our jobs expected to be spending significant amounts of time preparing for a scenario which a few years ago was believed to be from a bygone era,” one senior administration official told CNN.

Ukraine says saber-rattling reveals a frightened Putin

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Sources:  
Reuters, CNN

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior Ukrainian presidential official, told Reuters that Putin’s warning shows he’s worried about losing the war. “Realizing that things are going the wrong way, Putin continues to use classic nuclear rhetoric. With the old Soviet hope - ‘be scared and retreat!’,” Podolyak said.

The U.S. intelligence community believes that Russia views its sizeable stockpile of nuclear weapons “as an important tool for achieving its goals in a potential conflict with the United States or NATO,” CNN reported. However, intelligence officials are also concerned that Moscow’s frustration with its slow progress on the battlefield may spur it to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

Putin seeks to project stability to Russians ahead of election

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Sources:  
The New York Times, The Global Times

The New York Times characterized Putin’s most recent remarks as a softer threat than he’s issued about nuclear weapons in the past, calling his comments an “apparent attempt to bolster his domestic image as a guarantor of stability” ahead of his practically guaranteed reelection this weekend.

Putin’s State of the Nation address at the end of February was a similar attempt to project confidence to the nation over the war in Ukraine, with analysts telling Chinese state newspaper the Global Times that Putin was seeking to tell the world “Russia is not concerned at all and is even satisfied with the current situation.”

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