Military setbacks and ‘potential desperation’ could spur Russian President Vladimir Putin to use ‘tactical’ or ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons against Ukraine, CIA Director William Burns has warned during a speech at Georgia Tech on Thursday.
Why is this important: So-called “tactical” nukes are considered “low yield” only because other nukes have become incredibly powerful. Any nuclear strike against Ukraine would be far more powerful and devastating than any conventional attack.
- Burns stressed that the intelligence community had seen no “practical evidence” to suggest such a nuclear attack on Ukraine was imminent, but they were aware of the threat.
What they say : Given “the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks they have faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential recourse to tactical nukes or low-yield nukes,” Burns says.
- Although “we’ve seen some rhetorical posturing from the Kremlin about moving to higher nuclear alert levels, so far we haven’t seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or arrangements military that would reinforce that concern,” he added.
- “We watch this very carefully. It’s one of our most important responsibilities at the CIA.”
How it works: Russia has in its nuclear arsenal thousands of smaller warheadsand several different systems that can deliver these warheads in shorter and intermediate ranges.
The big picture: Shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin placed the country’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert.
- Kremlin officials have repeatedly warned that Russia would use nuclear weapons if there was a “threat to the existence” of the country.
- Burns said Russian military doctrine allows the use of such weapons to defuse a conventional military threat.
Go further: Russia threatens to deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic if Sweden and Finland join NATO