Did Putin Just Threaten to Use Nuclear Weapons?

Russian leader issues an ominous threat to nations that 'interfere' with invasion
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2022 10:55 AM CST
Did Putin Just Threaten to Use Nuclear Weapons?
Russian President Vladimir Putin.   (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Just after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, he warned other nations of severe "consequences" should they step in. Just how severe? Some are interpreting his remarks as a veiled, or even not-so-veiled, threat to use nuclear weapons. Coverage:

  • The warning: "Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never experienced in your history," said Putin, as translated at CNN. "We are ready for any development of events. All necessary decisions in this regard have been made. I hope that I will be heard."

  • Reminder: In his long speech, Putin also reminded the world that Russia "remains one of the most powerful nuclear states" with "a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons," notes the New York Times.
  • Chilling: In the view of Mike Allen at Axios, the implication is clear. "This is a rare overt threat of nuclear attack," he writes, adding that "rarely in our lifetimes has the world heard more chilling and ominous words." Worse, "madman Putin is sitting on a massive nuclear arsenal and seems impervious to pressure, sanctions, or threats." Coverage elsewhere isn't as definitive. The Telegraph, for example, states in its coverage that Putin "appeared to threaten nuclear strikes."

  • Analysis: In an essay at Politico, Beatrice Fihn, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, assesses all this and writes that "suddenly, the 'unthinkable' is unfolding before our eyes." For context, "new deployments of nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe could station US and Russian nuclear weapons closer than at any time in history," writes Fihn. "This would not be a second Cuban missile crisis but a far more volatile situation." However, she sees hope for de-escalation in the UN's Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  • Putin's allegation: A separate New York Times story reports that Putin is making the case that Ukraine is the one posing a potential nuclear threat. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal when the Soviet Union collapsed, but Putin is backing a "conspiracy theory" that "Ukraine and the United States are secretly plotting to put nuclear weapons back into the country," per the Times. As Putin himself put it earlier this week: "Ukraine intends to create its own nuclear weapons, and this is not just bragging.” The story digs into the related international pact that emerged when the USSR fell, the Budapest Memorandum. The BBC also fact-checks Putin's statement.
(More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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