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A number of Moscow statements have indicated that Russia is exploring the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons to stop a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

How do Western analysts assess this risk?

All about the topic:

Russian invasion of Ukraine 7059

"Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it."

This is how US President Joe Biden answered the question of the CBS TV presenter what he would say to Putin if he showed an inclination to use nuclear weapons in the context of the counter-offensive in Ukraine and Russian losses in the war. 

Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization in Russia

The issue was prompted by ambiguous statements from Putin and his press secretary, which some analysts interpreted as a nuclear threat against the Ukrainian military.

How realistic is such a threat according to Western experts? Opinions are divided.

Ukraine's successes and the risk of nuclear escalation

University of Innsbruck international relations professor Gerhard Mangot, who is an expert on Russia, says Putin is in a position to use such a weapon if the Russian army is forced to continue its retreat - especially if, after the losses in Kharkiv Oblast, it emerges and threat of the loss of Crimea.

To begin with, he could give a kind of warning nuclear shot, for example, over the Black Sea.

And if such a tactic does not work - and directly against the Ukrainian army, predicts Mangot.

Retired British general Richard Barnes has a similar opinion: "If Ukraine wins the war next year, and Russia faces a defeat that threatens its security, according to Russian military doctrine, tactical nuclear weapons should be used. We should we have that in mind."

According to Barrons, Ukraine's counter-offensive represents not only "an important turning point in the war", but also a huge threat.

"Western heads of state and government should be prepared that Putin will use nuclear weapons or try to bring NATO directly into the conflict."

Europe commented on Putin's address

A nuclear strike on Kyiv?

Professor Carlo Massala of the Bundeswehr University in Munich sees the situation differently: "Of course, there is a theoretical possibility of using chemical or atomic weapons. But at the moment I think that is extremely unlikely."

Masala makes a purely strategic case against the use of such weapons on the battlefield.

"Where could Vladimir Putin actually strike?" asks the professor rhetorically.

"In Kyiv for the Ukrainians to surrender? They won't, which Putin probably understands."

Striking at the front line is also pointless: "In that case he will have to risk the defeat of his own people."

Study: A nuclear war between the US and Russia will result in over 5 billion casualties

Professor Peter Neumann of King's College London also rules out a nuclear move by Putin.

But for other reasons - the possible reaction of the West and especially the United States.

"Putin understands that the USA in such a case (in the case of the use of tactical nuclear weapons - note ed.) will immediately intervene actively in the course of military actions," explains the German expert.

This will be the end of Putin and he knows it," Neumann believes. According to him, the same applies to the use of chemical weapons.

The consequences of a possible nuclear scenario

German military expert Gustav Gressel is also among the sceptics.

However, he admits that Russia's use of nuclear weapons in the first phase of Ukraine's offensive near Kharkiv could have stopped the Ukrainians.

"And if Russia had dropped 20-30 atomic bombs all over the country, that would have been the end of Ukraine," Gressel points out.

"But the use of nuclear weapons would have huge consequences for Putin."

"The use of a single nuclear warhead would not have stopped the war," he believes. "In this situation in Washington, all restrictions on arms supplies to Ukraine and on sanctions against Russia would fall."

Putin: There will be no winners in a nuclear war

However, the expert does not completely rule out the possibility of a nuclear scenario in the war.

Like Gerhard Mangot, he suggested that Russia could use nuclear weapons in the event of an imminent threat to Crimea.

But even if the army starts a panic flight on all fronts in Ukraine, and the soldiers fleeing to Russia become an internal political risk for Putin.

Russian invasion of Ukraine