Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the country’s nuclear arsenals as a deterrent factor in the Ukrainian conflict but demurred when challenged to make a pledge that Moscow would not be the first to use them.
Asked by a member of the presidential Human Rights Council to commit Russia to rule out a first strike, he responded that such an obligation might prevent Russia from tapping its atomic arsenal even if came under a nuclear attack.
“If it doesn’t use it first under any circumstances, it means that it won’t be the second to use it either, because the possibility of using it in case of a nuclear strike on our territory will be sharply limited,” Mr Putin said.
He noted that Russia’s nuclear doctrine is based on the so-called “launch on warning” concept, which envisages the country employing nuclear weapons in the face of an imminent nuclear attack.
“It means that if we come under strike, we strike back in response,” he said.
Moscow’s nuclear doctrine says the country can use nuclear weapons if it comes under a nuclear strike or if it faces an attack with conventional weapons that threatens “the very existence” of the Russian state.
Mr Putin, who has repeatedly said during the fighting in Ukraine that Russia is ready to use “all available means” to protect its territory, rejected western criticism of nuclear sabre-rattling.
He pointed at former British prime minister Liz Truss’s statement about her readiness to use nuclear weapons, saying he felt obliged to respond to that.
“I had to emphasise certain things in response,” Mr Putin said. “Her comments went largely unnoticed, but they immediately emphasised our statements and used them to scare the world.”
The Russian leader further argued that Moscow’s nuclear weapons are a tool of deterrence amid the military operation in Ukraine, which is in its 10th month.
“We haven’t gone mad. We fully understand what nuclear weapons are,” Mr Putin said. “We have them, and they are more advanced and state-of-the-art than what any other nuclear power have.
“We aren’t going to brandish those weapons like a razor running around the world, but we naturally proceed from their existence.
“It’s a factor of deterrence, not a factor provoking an escalation of the conflict.”
The Russian leader characterised the tactical nuclear weapons the US deployed to Europe as a destabilising factor, saying Russia has not deployed any nuclear weapons outside its territory, but “we naturally will defend our allies with all available means, if necessary”.