Connect with us

Politics & Security

Even if Putin Uses Devastating Nuclear Weapons, He Cannot Win the Ukraine War

Putin should recognize that he has lost the war in Ukraine. Opting to use nuclear weapons would do nothing but tarnish his already discredited reputation.



Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia June 7, 2023. (© Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS)

If there was one objective for the G7 Hiroshima summit, United States President Joe Biden's remarks prove it has been met. It was following his visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, an exhibition that is purposed to inform visitors of the horror and destruction of nuclear weapons. Biden stated that the experience "was a powerful reminder of the devastating reality of nuclear war and our shared responsibility to never cease our efforts to build for peace."

Nuclear arms reduction has been a lifework for Fumio Kishida as a politician. And on occasion, he has professed his desire for achieving a world free from nuclear weapons. His determination is rooted and shared among his constituents in Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in history. 

However, Kishida acknowledges that nuclear disarmament will not be accomplished in the near future. This is due to the resurgence of Great Power competition, and its continuing utility as an ultimate deterrent force for rogue states such as North Korea.

Yet, the fact that the leaders from four nuclear-armed nations — the United States, United Kingdom, France, and India — were able to assemble at Hiroshima was meaningful in itself. By letting them see with their own eyes the destruction that their own nuclear arsenal may unleash, the leaders were injected with prudence and a sense of responsibility. Therefore, Kishida did his part in contributing to the lessening the chances of another Hiroshima — or a Nagasaki

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in front of the Cenotaph for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on May 21, 2023. The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen in the background. (© Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS)

Putin's Nuclear Saber-Rattling 

However, it was unfortunate that a particular individual was absent from the Hiroshima summit. This individual has been frequently showing off his nuclear prowess. Talking to the victims and visiting the Peace Memorial might have forced him to rethink his recent behaviors. 

Since the onset of the Ukraine war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has utilized nuclear weapons mostly as a political tool to deter Western countries' direct intervention in the conflict. In order to accomplish those aims, Putin has hinted at their usage during his speeches. He has raised the nuclear alert level and suspended the only remaining US-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty. Additionally, he announced the deployment of nuclear weapons to the neighboring Belarus

Through this, he has been ratcheting up as much fear among the backers of Ukraine as possible.

Up to this point, Putin's saber-rattling has been successful. Before Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, Biden had preemptively stated that no US troops would be dispatched to Ukraine, citing concerns about nuclear war. And although the West has been providing military aid to Ukraine, the pace has been slow. Moreover, the West has been hesitant to provide game-changing weapons. This is out of fear that doing so would significantly escalate the war and result in nuclear conflict.

Calling Putin's Bluff

The problem for Putin is that only gesturing the use of nuclear weapons is not sufficient anymore. It will not deter further involvement of the West since they have been bullish in calling Putin's bluff.

The Western alliance has been a generous supporter of Ukraine's war effort. And in mid-May, it announced that it would acquiesce to providing Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets. Furthermore, the same countries agreed to help Ukrainians train their pilots to operate the aircraft. Such an escalation was considered unlikely only a few months ago. 


Meanwhile, as Putin continues to resort to nuclear blackmailing without any substantial corresponding action, the West may accelerate its military support. If that happens, Russia's fortune on the battlefield would turn grimmer every day.

It is true that Russia appears to be acquiescent to the escalating moves on the part of the West. But testing the limits of Putin's patience must be handled conscientiously. Russia's official policy on nuclear weapons is that they would not hesitate to deploy them when pushed into a corner. 

Since 2000, Russia has adopted a nuclear doctrine, which is commonly described as a strategy to "escalate to de-escalate." According to the doctrine, if Russia is faced with insurmountable pressure, it would be inclined to deploy nuclear weapons to prevent its adversaries from further escalating the situation. In other words, the manifested doctrine intends to use nuclear weapons as a device to cause a chilling effect. It aims to help Russia reverse its inferior position.

G7 leaders pose for a photo before a working session on Ukraine during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (© Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS)

Ukrainian Morale Remains High

However, it is not all clear whether a decision by Putin to launch nuclear weapons on the battlefield would change the outcome of the ensuing war. This is regardless of whether the type of weapon is tactical or strategic. In spite of Russian bombardment on Ukrainian cities and critical energy infrastructure, and mounting war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil, the morale of the Ukrainians remains high. And Ukraine seems to have no appetite for a ceasefire unless all territory, including Crimea, is recaptured

Also, Bakhmute, a critical location in Ukraine that had been contested by opposing parties, was turned to scorched earth. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described this as akin to the scene of Hiroshima after the nuclear destruction. However, the Ukrainian zeal to repel the invader has not abated.

Putin should recognize that he has lost the war. His entire aim for venturing into Ukraine was to begin the process of stitching together the missing pieces of the Russian empire. He anticipated a skirmish that would end in a few days. However, he grossly miscalculated the duration of the war. It has now lasted for more than a year. Some observers indicate that it could sustain for a decade. 

Even if Putin succeeds in occupying the entirety of Ukraine through force, the nationhood of Ukraine — if there was any doubt of it — that is raging as a result of the invasion will never be extinguished. Putin would have to face significant resistance from the occupied population until Russia retreats. The Ukrainians are proving that that will be the case. 

Why Putin Will Lose

After all, the reality is that Ukrainians are continuing to fight. This is despite their country being devastated on a magnitude akin to that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. This damage was caused by Russia's conventional weaponry. Their determination leaves one to think that the Ukrainians would continue doing so even if there was a nuclear attack.

When history judges Putin and his Ukraine war debacle, it will not treat him kindly. His decision to invade Ukraine could be treated as the single most wrongly decided military operation that a leader has ever embarked on. 

The exhaustion of Russian blood and treasury may lead to a downgrade of its semi-Great Power status. It may not only become subordinate to China but even worse, a mere "gas station" where the abundance of natural resources would be the only thing that the nation could boast about. 

If Putin wants to avert such humiliating consequences for the future of his country, the rational thing to do would be to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine immediately. 


Opting to use nuclear weapons and create another Hiroshima or Nagasaki would tarnish his already discredited reputation. Moreover, as John McCain once pointed out, it would not yield the intended results that he wishes to extract.


Author: Jio Kamata

Our Partners