Putin Hints at First-Strike Policy, Cites 'US Counterparts'

Russian president doesn't say it, but analysts hear veiled nuclear threat
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 9, 2022 4:08 PM CST
Putin Hints at First-Strike Policy, Cites 'US Counterparts'
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at his news conference Friday after the Summit of the Intergovernmental Council of the Eurasian Economic Union in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.   (Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow could adopt what he described as a US concept of using preemptive military strikes, noting it has the weapons to do the job, in a blunt statement amid rising Russia-NATO tensions over Ukraine. "We are just thinking about it. They weren't shy to openly talk about it during the past years," Putin said, referring to the US policy, as he attended a summit in Kyrgyzstan of a Moscow-dominated economic alliance of ex-Soviet nations, the AP reports. For years, the Kremlin has expressed concern about US efforts to develop the so-called Conventional Prompt Global Strike capability that envisions hitting an adversary's strategic targets with precision-guided conventional weapons anywhere in the world within one hour.

"Speaking about a disarming strike, maybe it's worth thinking about adopting the ideas developed by our US counterparts, their ideas of ensuring their security," Putin said with a thin smile, noting that such a preemptive strike was intended to knock out command facilities. He claimed that Russia already has commissioned hypersonic weapons capable of carrying out such a strike, while the US hasn't deployed them. He also claimed that Russia now has cruise missiles that surpass their US equivalents. While Putin appeared to refer to conventional precision-guided weapons when he talked about possibly mimicking the US strategy, he specifically noted that the US hasn't ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons.

"If the potential adversary believes that it can use the theory of a preemptive strike and we don't, it makes us think about the threats posed by such ideas in other countries’ defensive posture," he said. In Washington, advisers to President Biden viewed Putin’s comments as "saber-rattling" and another veiled warning that he could deploy a tactical nuclear weapon, according to a US official who was not authorized to comment. The official noted that Russian military doctrine has long stated that Moscow reserves the right to first use of a nuclear weapon in response to large-scale military aggression.

John Erath, senior policy director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, also viewed Putin's statement as another attempt to raise the nuclear threat. "He doesn't quite say we’re going to launch nuclear weapons, but he wants the dialogue in the US and Europe to be, 'The longer this war goes on, the greater the threat of nuclear weapons might be used,'" Erath said. (Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)

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