VLADIMIR Putin could turn the Ukraine war nuclear by dropping a bomb over the Black Sea or firing at a US target, a national security expert has said.
While the threats have been dismissed by both the US and the UK as mere bluster, fears of an all-out war using nuclear armaments are a realistic possibility as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine falters and troops continue to meet fierce opposition.
Concerns were raised after Russia test-fired its nuclear missile Sarmat 2 last week, with Putin boasting it was able to strike anywhere on earth and couldn’t be stopped by existing missile defences.
Joseph Cirincione, a distinguished fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, D.C, has now revealed five chilling ways Putin could unleash nuclear weapons on the world.
Speaking on Bill Press Pods, he warned the Russian dictator could initially fire nukes into the Black Sea as a “demonstration shot” before using nuclear weapons on targets in Ukraine.
And in a worrying worst case scenario, Mr Cirincione said Putin could fire at Nato targets or even the United States.
The threat of a nuclear attack has been played down by the West.
UK Armed Forces minister James Heappey said there was no “imminent threat of escalation”, while Defence Secretary Ben Wallace wrote off the warnings as Putin “distracting the world and the public from what he’s actually doing in Ukraine”.
But Mr Cirincione said: “The first possibility is you would use a nuclear weapon in a demonstration shot, so you would fire something into the Black Sea, for example.
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“The purpose of this is to ‘escalate to de-escalate’ if the war is going badly.
“If the Russians felt they were on the verge of defeat, they would fire off a nuclear shot to indicate the seriousness of the situation, and to cause the West to back off.
“If that were to happen, I would say the reaction would be shock and horror – but it would not require a military response.
“You don’t have to do anything there. I would say the US response would be more diplomatic.”
In a second scenario, Mr Cirincione said Putin could unleash a “very low yield weapon” on a military target in Ukraine, killing thousands and causing major damage.
“Again, the US would not necessarily require a military solution,” he said.
“The third possibility is that they use a serious nuclear weapon – Hiroshima sized or more – and it strikes and it destroys a city in Ukraine.
“At that point, that’s where things get quite serious.
“I would immediately expect to see long-range military response from Nato. Not Nato forces on the ground, but long-range strikes, which we are perfectly capable of doing.
“We could strike the launch site, for example, and definitely send a message saying ‘do not do this again’. That’s what you’re trying to do, trying to control the escalation.”
But he insisted Nato would not fire a nuclear weapon on Russia in retaliation under this scenario.
“This is where we go to the fourth scenario… targeting a Nato base,” he said.
“If you saw a low-yield weapon used on a Nato target, then you would get a Nato air and ground assault, that would just wipe of the Russian military in Ukraine.
“We could do that, it would take a couple of weeks, but we could end the war if we wanted to.
“What you’re trying to avoid is Russia firing again – another nuclear weapon. That’s where it gets extremely risky. Putin may feel he has no option but to launch.”
He added: “This is why the fifth and final stage – if Putin would use a nuclear weapon on a US target and used a long-range missile to fire at the US – then all bets are off.
“There’s no question the US military command would be nearly universal in demanding we respond with a nuclear strike.
“It would probably be multiple strikes to knock out the command structure and some of their capabilities before they could respond – including knocking out Putin himself.”
Mr Cirincione said top US government officials would be working through the scenarios and preparing possible responses if Putin’s war escalates.
“I believe these scenarios are being worked in the US government,” he said.
“I just gave you five, but I bet they have a list of 25 that go into more fine-tuning on what you would do and how you would do it.
“But I believe for many of these scenarios, you have to go quite a way up before you get to the US nuclear response.”
He added: “The risk of Putin going nuclear are low. The barriers against use are formidable. But he could do it and he might do it.
“We should be publicly discussing the options so the Western publics fully understand the risks and can have a say in the responses.”
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov first raised the possibility of launching nuclear weapons during an interview on Russian state TV on Tuesday.
Responding to a question on whether the current standoff between east and west could be compared to the Cuban missile crisis at the height of the Cold War, he said the situation was even more dangerous.
He explained this was because the weapons involved now were more powerful, the controls on them more lax, and communication between the two sides is non-existent.
Lavrov said: “During the Cuban Missile Crisis there were not many ‘written’ rules. But the rules of conduct were clear enough.
“Moscow understood how Washington was behaving. Washington understood how Moscow was behaving. Now there are few rules left.”
Putin followed with a threat of his own – vowing a “lightning-fast” response to any country who directly intervened in the conflict.
During a meeting of lawmakers in St Petersburg, he said: “If someone intends to interfere in what is going on from the outside they must know that constitutes an unacceptable strategic threat to Russia.
“They must know that our response to counter strikes will be lightning-fast. Fast.
“We have all the weapons we need for this. No one else can brag about these weapons, and we won’t brag about them. But we will use them.”
While Putin did not directly mention the use of nuclear weapons, it would seem he was making a reference to the Sarmat missile.