Published On: Wed, Feb 28th, 2024

Vladimir Putin’s horror nuclear attack plans exposed in trove of leaked Kremlin documents | World | News

Vladimir Putin’s forces have reportedly rehearsed the use of tactical nuclear weapons at an early stage of conflict with another major world power, according to leaked Russian military files, but a former US Navy admiral suggests Moscow may have had a motive to share the information.

According to experts who reviewed and verified the documents, they describe a threshold for the use of tactical nuclear weapons that is lower than has ever been publicly admitted by the Kremlin, the outlet reports.

The cache is made up of 29 secret Russian military files drawn up between 2008 and 2014, and includes scenarios for war-gaming (a simulation of a military operation) and presentations for naval officers, that discuss operating principles for the use of nukes.

The criteria laid out for a potential nuclear response range from an enemy incursion on Russian territory to more specific requirements, such as 20 percent of Moscow’s strategic ballistic missile submarines being destroyed, or 30 percent of its nuclear-powered attack submarines being wiped out.

However, Mike Hewitt, a retired Rear Admiral in the American Navy believes Russia may have wanted the files in the public domain.

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He told the Daily Express US: “The timing of this leak is suspicious, it appears to be an information operations campaign.

Russia maintained a Tactical Nuclear capability both as a deterrence as well as a response to threats to the homeland.”

He added that the U.S. and its Nuclear Allies “have eliminated Tactical Nuclear weapons capability and only maintain Strategic Weapons.”

The classified papers, seen by The Financial Times, are also said to expose suspicion towards Beijing in Moscow, revealing training scenarios in the event China invaded Russia.

Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, said the documents were a revelation, telling the outlet: “This is the first time that we have seen documents like this reported in the public domain.”

“They show that the operational threshold for using nuclear weapons is pretty low if the desired result can’t be achieved through conventional means,” he added.

The training materials are also said to reveal Russia’s eastern military district was rehearsing several scenarios depicting an invasion by China, despite deepening ties between the two countries in recent years.

One exercise that reportedly outlined a hypothetical attack by Beijing notes that Russia, which is described as the “Northern Federation” for the purpose of the simulation, could respond with a tactical nuclear strike to prevent “the South” from sending a second wave of invading forces.

“The order has been given by the commander-in-chief . . . to use nuclear weapons . . . in the event the enemy deploys second-echelon units and the South threatens to attack further in the direction of the main strike,” the document, according to the outlet.

The Chinese foreign ministry insisted the two countries remain firm and committed allies.

“The Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation between China and Russia has legally established the concept of eternal friendship and non-enmity between the two countries,” a spokesperson said. “The ‘threat theory’ has no market in China and Russia.”

The Kremlin is yet to comment on the reports.

Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons are designed for limited battlefield use in Europe and Asia, as opposed to the more powerful “strategic” weapons that would threaten the US.

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Though tactical warheads are intended to destroy enemy targets in a specific area without causing widespread destruction and radioactive fallout, modern versions of the weapons are still able to release far more energy than the nukes dropped on Japan in 1945.

Experts claim the files, which were shown to the FT by Western sources and date back 10 years and more, remain relevant to current Russian military doctrine.

Last year, Putin said Russia’s nuclear doctrine allowed for two possible thresholds for the use of nuclear weapons, namely: retaliation against a first nuclear strike by one its enemies, and if “the very existence of Russia as a state comes under threat even if conventional weapons are used”.

However, the Russian leader added that neither of these criteria was likely to be met, and has dismissed public calls from hardliners reduce the threshold for a launch.

William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies says Russia is still behaving in line with the “theory of use” of nuclear weapons set out in the leaked files.

“We have not seen a fundamental rethink,” he told the outlet, adding that it is probably born out of concerns in Russia that China may seek to take advantage of it being distracted “to push the Russians out of Central Asia”.

The low threshold for the use of tactical nuclear weapons the documents suggest is in line with a doctrine referred to by some western observers as “escalating to de-escalate”.

In this strategy a weapon of this kind could be used in an attempt to stop Russia from being caught in sprawling war, especially one in which Washington might intervene.

It’s thought such a “fear inducement”, by Moscow would see it seeking bring the hypothetical conflict to an end on its own terms with the early use of a small nuclear weapon to shock its enemy — or using the threat to do so to securing a settlement.

“They talk about ‘soberising’ their adversaries — knocking them out of the drunkenness of their early victories by introducing nuclear weapons,” Alberque said. “The best way that they think they can do that is to use what they call a lower ‘dosage’ of nuclear weapons at a much lower level of combat to prevent escalation.”

Alberque says the theshold for using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine is likely higher than it is for China or the US.

Kiev does not possess nuclear capability or the resources to launch a ground invasion on the same scale.

According to Alberque, Russian leaders believe that carrying out a nuclear strike on its neighbour would be likely to escalate the war and lead to the US or UK intervening directly, which he says is “absolutely the last thing Putin wants.”

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