Vladimir Putin started his invasion last February thinking about three things.
First, that his army was fantastic; second, that the Ukrainian army was very weak; and third, that the international community was too self-absorbed, complacent and apathetic to intervene.
Well, his army proves to be underpowered; the Ukrainian army, though smaller, is not broken; so it is only in the third area – international support – that Putin thinks he can now make an impact.
Putin is trying to weed out international support for Ukraine, and the easiest way for him to do that is to raise the specter of nuclear war.
In the West, we don’t talk about nuclear weapons like Russia does. It’s such a horrifying idea to us that humanity would use these things again; for Russia it is part of their military doctrine.
So Putin knows it is pushing our buttons, and it is right that we get energized when the idea of using nuclear weapons is discussed.
However, we should not be afraid of these threats.
Putin is not going to fire the megaton-sized missiles at Ukraine. It would be an order of magnitude above any kind of escalation currently being devised.
But likewise, the idea that Russia could use low-efficiency nuclear missiles is not helpful – because where would you do it?
In a country the size of Ukraine, you’d have to use hundreds of these weapons to have any effect; and using hundreds of nuclear weapons is no longer a small step on the escalation ladder.
All it would do is break the nuclear taboo and potentially open a path to escalation that no one wants. Using it would kill hundreds of people, irradiate a large area of land – all to little military effect.