The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Russian Nuclear Threats: Should We Be Worried?

Many will have heard Putin’s latest not-so-veiled threat, that “[NATO countries] have to understand that we also have weapons, weapons that could defeat them on their own territory.”[1] This quote has stirred up headlines and ruffled some feathers in the social media world. Some may be concerned by this threat, especially in light of recent news of a Russian nuclear anti-satellite weapon.[2]

One should remember, however, that this is neither the first nuclear threat, nor is it the most serious. Many will recall in 2022, when Putin put his nuclear forces on so-called “special alert”. This marked the beginning of a tirade of threats. Such threats were made by a litany of senior Russian figures, from Dmitry Medvedev, (View our digest on this here — DEFCON Warning System Digest – Unpacking Medvedev’s Nuclear Threats) to Russian TV presenters threatening to use their latest nuclear torpedo on the UK.[3]

These threats are used by the Russian state as a method of reminding Western officials that supplying arms to Ukraine is analogous to dancing with the devil. One should note that said nuclear threats are usually made in light of news that NATO is planning to increase support to Ukraine. Take the most recent threat, which came soon after recent public speculation by the Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico, that some NATO members were considering sending troops to Ukraine.[4] The French President, Macron, also alluded to this in a press conference[5] (although it was later clarified by one of his officials that this would be in a supporting role only).

It is clear that Putin has used, uses, and will continue to use nuclear threats to dissuade NATO from crossing his so-called red lines. However, one should not dismiss the domestic reasons for issuing such threats. They remind the Russian people that Putin can keep NATO in check. They’re also used by senior Russian officials to show their loyalty to Putin and his ‘special military operation’.

So, should we worry about these threats?

On the whole, no. Putin is not going to use a nuclear weapon without a very good reason. Many of Russia’s red lines are more like red herrings, a distraction. Something to slow down support for Ukraine. The most recent threat was issued as a reminder for NATO not to cross the red line of direct NATO involvement with troops on the ground, yet troops are already on the ground.[6] Granted, any troops in Ukraine are in a purely supportive role, not engaging in direct action against Russian forces, but it begs the question where this red line really is? Many believe the red line to be significant battlefield setbacks or an unexpected expansion of the conflict[8], which tends to be read as NATO contingent Ukraine in either a defensive or offensive role, a proposition which no NATO members are publicly advocating for at this time.[8] Hence, if such a scenario is unlikely to occur, then one should not expect the nuclear response threatened.

This does not mean that nuclear threats by Russia should be dismissed out of hand. Russia, like any country, has plans for nuclear war and what will trigger it[9]. It should also be noted that Russia is flooded with propaganda that says the West is determined to weaken them[10]. Russia sees this war as existential. The DEFCON Warning System has repeatedly warned that there are lines that Russia will defend, even if it must resort to nuclear weapons[11].

As the Ukraine conflict progresses, the Russian state can be relied upon to resort to more nuclear threats. Whether these threats are bluster or genuine is difficult to asses. The DEFCON Warning System will continue to analyze intelligence and information in the Ukraine conflict and issue warnings as appropriate.

The public should always be aware of the current situation, and should always be prepared in the event of an emergency.


Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.

© 2024 The DEFCON Warning System. Established 1984.

The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.