The past events were so excruciating to Russia; now, the theater has been put on between Russia and the West again, but the venue is different this time. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb 2022 raised several threats. This invasion has challenged the sovereignty of Ukraine. In addition, NATO expansion Eastward threatens Russia’s security interests. NATO is a Western military alliance whose goal is to protect democratic freedom. Initially, NATO was an anti-Soviet accord that aimed at countering its future aggression. However, any conflict with a nuclear state carries the risk of nuclear use, and this also raises questions about nuclear deterrence between Russia and the U.S. over the Ukraine crisis. The invasion of Ukraine is because of Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and the European Union.
According to Putin, the collapse of the USSR was a major human tragedy and the greatest geopolitical catastrophe since Ukraine, and the people of Ukraine are an indispensable part of Russian history and culture.
Fundamentally, two possible storylines related to nuclear deterrence exist in this war. First, Russia might use nuclear weapons when it loses its power and influence over Ukraine. But if Russia uses nuclear weapons at the moment, deterrence will fail. The U.S. perhaps directly intervened to ensure the security of other states once the Soviet Union parts and to prevent further escalation. And this makes the whole world face severe economic and environmental consequences. Likewise, Ukraine’s inability to export grains at the start of the war raised the global hunger crisis. The use of nuclear weapons by Russia on Ukraine could lead to Armageddon. Also, Russia withstands the interference of any other state in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. And they might use nuclear weapons on Ukraine to threaten the West backers not to intervene.
Nevertheless, this behavior of Russia and its nuclear threat possibly increases Ukraine’s urge to join NATO to avoid such catastrophic situations again. However, the West didn’t directly interfere in the war. Still, it supplied HIMARS (high mobility artillery rocket system), M777 howitzers, NASAMS, and other advanced weapons to Ukraine to fight a defensive war against Russia.
These three circumstances make nuclear use by Russia more likely. First would be a catastrophic military defeat of Russia by Ukraine. The second would be Putin losing his hold on power. The third would be if the Russian economy were on the brink of collapse. In the last few months, these conditions have started emerging. This can happen because the U.S. provides Ukraine with advanced weapons to fight against Russia. Hence, Russia is losing some of the territories that it captured.
Moreover, European states put sanctions on Russia to affect its economy. Putin was once a KGB agent, a Soviet spy agency. During his training, his trainer discovered a flaw in Putin: he has a lower sense of danger, which means that what seems dangerous to us may not seem dangerous to Putin. And Putin’s dangerous invasion of Ukraine is its indication. Russia might launch a nuclear strike in a less habited area of Ukraine as a warning shook. Instead of winning or losing the war, the threat of using nuclear weapons and failure of nuclear deterrence is increased. But it’s tough to predict what will happen because it will be up to Putin; he will do what he thinks is best.
The second storyline is that Russia might not use its nuclear weapons and use nuclear threats to fulfill its objectives in Ukraine. Nuclear deterrence will remain between the US and Russia in the end. Russian nuclear posture demands that any attack on the Russian Federation and the state’s existence can lead to nuclear weapon usage. But Ukraine is not invading Russia. They are fighting a defensive war. Russia has no solid reason to use nuclear weapons because NATO and other countries didn’t interfere directly in the War. Article 5 of the NATO Charter obliges member states to protect each other in a crisis. Still, Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so there is very little chance of these states directly interfering to support Ukraine.
If Russia uses Nuclear weapons, the cost of war will be more than the benefits Russia gains in the war. States are rational actors and do not demolish the playfield in which they are playing. In this way, we can say Russia will not use nuclear weapons.
The world is anarchic in which states aim to balance power and secure national interests. Russia wants to maintain its power and geostrategic influence by resisting Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Ukraine desires to become a NATO member for its sovereignty and national security. The US interest is to weaken the Russian geostrategic position on power and strengthen the US partnership with Europe. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the U.S., Russia, and Britain promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and refrain from using force on Ukraine, but now Russia is violating this commitment. Therefore, the U.S. is taking an interest and resisting Russia.
The war in Ukraine is a serious concern for the great powers. Putin invaded Ukraine to topple its government and to place a puppet regime to preserve his geostrategic power and communist ideology. These are the ample signs of a new cold war. There are two clear sides, one led by the US and one by Russia. Where the world sees it as Moscow’s offense, Putin sees it as a defense. However, weak states are always instruments in the hands of great powers. When Russia will not control Ukraine, then the US will do.
The Author is scholar at the National Defence University, Islamabad. She is equipped with a comprehensive knowledge of military strategies and international relations. She possesses research and analytical skills. And committed to actively seeking opportunities to contribute to the field.