Russian Documents Reveal Criteria for Tactical Nuclear Weapon Use and the Threat of China

World » RUSSIA | February 29, 2024, Thursday // 08:09
Bulgaria: Russian Documents Reveal Criteria for Tactical Nuclear Weapon Use and the Threat of China

Recently leaked classified documents shed light on Russia's readiness to utilize tactical nuclear weapons in military scenarios, suggesting a lower threshold for nuclear engagement than publicly acknowledged. The revelations, disclosed by The Financial Times, underscore the operational principles guiding Russia's nuclear strategy, with criteria including the sinking of three cruisers or submarines with ballistic nuclear missiles.

Analysts familiar with the documents assert that the outlined criteria remain relevant today, painting a concerning picture of Russia's willingness to resort to nuclear escalation under specific circumstances. The documents, spanning from 2008 to 2014, detail scenarios for military exercises and presentations to naval officers, indicating a strategic imperative to maintain nuclear deterrence capabilities.

Key factors identified for triggering a nuclear response include significant losses to the Russian military, threats to state security, and specific military actions such as the destruction of strategic submarines or key command centers. Russia's objectives in employing tactical nuclear weapons range from deterring aggression to safeguarding territorial integrity and military efficiency.

They listed decisive factors such as:

  • losses of the Russian army, which "will inevitably lead to their inability to stop a major enemy aggression"
  • "a critical situation for the state security of Russia"
  • destroying 20% (or three) of Russian submarines with strategic ballistic missiles (currently, there are 13: five "Delta IV", or Project 667BRDM "Dolphin", and 8 "Borey", or Project 955/A, two more are being built and two are at the design stage with the task of replacing the aging Soviet models in the late 20s and early 30s)
  • destroying 30% of attacking nuclear submarines (or 5 out of 17 currently)
  • sinking three or more cruisers (the data here is conflicting about those actually in service - 7 are announced, but most likely 4 are used)
  • decommissioning of three military airfields (it is not specified whether it is strategic aviation)
  • synchronized strike on the main and reserve command centers along the coast.

Of particular interest are scenarios involving potential conflict with China, reflecting longstanding Russian apprehensions despite diplomatic overtures between the two countries. While the documents outline criteria for nuclear engagement, they also underscore the political nature of such decisions, ultimately resting with the Russian president.

The doctrine is described in scenarios of an invasion by China, which shows the Russian elite's distrust of that country, since as early as 2001 their rapprochement ruled out a pre-emptive nuclear strike. In 2012, the rule of Xi Jinping began in Beijing, and now they say there is no reason to doubt or suspect threats between the two countries. The scenarios speak of a "Northern Federation" being attacked by the "South" and "an order has been issued by the Commander-in-Chief to use nuclear weapons in case the enemy deploys its second echelon units and the South threatens continued attacks in the direction of the first blow," one of the documents reads. A presentation for training naval officers, which has nothing to do with the "China" scenario, specified a broader criterion, including the landing of the enemy on Russian shores, the defeat of units defending the border areas, or an imminent attack with conventional weapons. The reading of specialists cited by the publication is that Russia is ready to resort to tactical nuclear weapons at a relatively early stage of a conflict with a major military power, how embedded the nuclear arsenal is in defense policy and how the military is trained for a nuclear first strike in some circumstances.

William Alberque of the International Institute for Strategic Studies commented that while it has thrown eastern units into Ukraine, the Russian military continues to build defenses against China and is training with missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons along its borders with that country. "We don't see any fundamental rethinking" of the theory of using nuclear weapons described in the Russian documents, he added. But perhaps Russia is worried that - while Moscow's attention is distracted with Ukraine - the Chinese "try to push the Russians out of Central Asia".

Commentators emphasize the continuity of Russia's nuclear doctrine, highlighting ongoing military preparations and defensive posturing along its borders. Despite the war in Ukraine, where the threshold for nuclear engagement may be higher, Russia's nuclear posture remains a critical aspect of its defense policy.

Amidst geopolitical uncertainties, the leaked documents provide insights into Russia's strategic calculus and the evolving dynamics of nuclear deterrence in the contemporary security landscape.

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Tags: Russia, nuclear, weapons, tactical, criteria

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