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'Putin's Military Won't Allow Nuclear War'

Last updated on: March 04, 2022 07:31 IST
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'Putin is just flexing his muscles. He is not going to do anything. He is not that crazy.'

IMAGE: Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the construction site of the National Space Agency in Moscow, February 27, 2022. Photograph: Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat to raise the alert level of his country's nuclear arsenal to 'special combat readiness' following the US ramping up off sanctions sent shock waves across the globe.

Can this heightened alert, which is several steps short of a full-blow 'Defcon' situation, be dismissed as one more example of Moscow manufacturing threats to justify its invasion of Ukraine as has been explained away by the US or are we witnessing the world coming close to the nuclear brink?

"Even if he is in a mad state like Hitler, his generals would not permit it," Dr R Rajaraman, emeritus professor of theoretical physics at JNU and former co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

The first of a two-part interview:


President Putin announced on Sunday he was putting his forces on special nuclear alert. What does that mean?

I think it is just a macho gesture in response to various pressures on him not doing as well as he had hoped on his attack in Ukraine.

Putin is just flexing his muscles. He is not going to do anything. He is not that crazy.

It is just one more statement made to shake up the world.

It is a rather alarming statement to make.

It is not only alarming, it is also very irresponsible. He has done worse in the past.

Making such statements is the least of it, attacking Ukraine is much worse.

He is not going to frighten anyone in the West with these statements. I do not think he is planning a nuclear war. His military would not allow him to do so.

Even if he is in a mad state like Hitler, his generals would not permit it.

He is egotistical, but not to this extent.

There is plenty of resentment within Russia opposing his invasion of Ukraine. A nuclear war is something else.

If he were to drop even one nuclear weapon in Europe, it would start a nuclear war that would destroy everybody.

IMAGE: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces Valery Gerasimov attend a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not in picture), Moscow, February 27, 2022. Photograph: Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters

What exactly did Putin mean when he said he is putting his nuclear weapons on high alert. His ICBMs are already in a state of high alert.

It is not so much the long term, but the short term missiles.

There was an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banning the use of (intermediate and) short term missiles which could go from Russia to Ukraine and possibly to other NATO countries.

Both the US and Russia pulled out of this treaty about ten years ago.

The nuclear order is breaking down. The INF Treaty had banned the use of short range missiles and nations had agreed not to use them. Both sides pulled out of it.

I don't think there is any plan to use nuclear weapons.

It could be that these short term missiles are getting armed in Russia.

Why did the US and Russia pull out of the INF treaty?

The US was obsessed with Iran and were putting up anti-ballistic missiles in Poland to block any missiles coming out of Iran.

The Russians believed these could be used to block missiles coming out of Russia, thereby affecting their deterrence capabilities.

They objected to the setting up of these missiles and started setting up their intermediate range missiles.

So in a sense the Russians violated the treaty first.

The Americans in turn got worked up and also pulled out of the treaty.

Those are the missiles he could be arming. He might use a bluff.

These missiles may be brought along with other conventional weapons but would contain only conventional weapons.

IMAGE: Red paint smeared over a portrait of Putin during an anti-war protest outside the Russian embassy in Bucharest, Romania, February 26, 2022. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via Reuters

Putin said he did this in response to the US arming all the NATO countries in East Europe including Ukraine.

That could well be. NATO is always on a level of alert. That alert might have been made stronger. Not that NATO would use nuclear bombs either.

They are all posturing and keeping things on a level of readiness expecting they would never use them.

This is always a dangerous game. Accidents, misunderstandings or wrong signals, wrong detection by radar can happen and have happened many times in the past to be stopped only in the nick of time.

But I do not believe either side would make a deliberate attack.

When have wrong detections taken place?

During the 1980s, there were any number of incidents when the Americans believed they had detected an entire armada of missiles coming at them.

It takes 30 minutes for a missile to reach their country from Russia.

There is a very complicated procedure in place which they must follow once they detect these missiles.

And within that half an hour they have to decide their response.

But in most times, they discovered that these were false signals.

Luckily this was discovered just in time and they did not respond.

But these were near misses.

IMAGE: A Ukrainian soldier at a check point in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. Photograph: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

What about between India and Pakistan? We are both nuclear powers.

The transit time from the Sargodha air force base in Pakistan to Delhi is a period of six minutes. In one of our papers, we calculated that.

Here it is much, much, worse. That is why nuclear systems are so dangerous.

Being Indians, we will spend six minutes just finding the keys for our ABMs!

Have we also faced similar near miss situations like the Americans?

There have been no false alarms here.

Both sides have stayed away from the nuclear threshold.

Also, to have false alarm,s we need to have reconnaissance systems that can show you false alarms.

Our radar signals have not shown any incoming planes.

We don't have satellite systems looking at Pakistan all the time, we have some of them looking at them some of the time.

My God! sSupposing they had shown them...

Both India and Pakistan have to be very careful.

This appears to be a very dangerous moment. It is almost as though we are standing on the nuclear brink.

Not very much more on the brink than all the time. These weapons have almost always been on the alert.

In the US they are on a constant state of alert ready to be fired at the drop of a hat.

In the Russian case, we don't have so much information.

But both sides have been doing this every since the Cold War started and have continued to do so even after the Cold War has ended.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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