Putin is a ‘death cult’ leader who could still nuke Ukraine unless West threatens apocalyptic response, warns expert

VLADIMIR Putin could still use nuclear weapons in Ukraine in a final act of destruction, a leading Russia expert has warned.

To stop this “death cult” act the tyrant needs to be told of the apocalyptic consequences to Russia and him personally, which the West has so far failed to do, says Keir Giles.


Vladimir Putin threatening the West with nuclear weapons in a TV addressCredit: Sky News
Russia often boasts about the prowess of the Satan-2 nuclear missile


Russia often boasts about the prowess of the Satan-2 nuclear missileCredit: East2West
A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launcher parades through Red Square


A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launcher parades through Red SquareCredit: AP
Two Tu-160 strategic missile carriers flew close to the UK


Two Tu-160 strategic missile carriers flew close to the UKCredit: east2west

Throughout the war in Ukraine, Putin has engaged in nuclear sabre rattling in a bid to warn the West off increasing military aid to Kyiv.

In the most direct threat, he said Russia “will use all the means at our disposal” to defend itself adding “this is not a bluff” as he announced a mass mobilisation.

Putin’s latest move has seen him order Iskander nuclear capable missiles to be deployed to Belarus, bringing them within reach of Kyiv as well as the NATO capital cities of Warsaw and Vilnius.

Nuclear bombers including the Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 are regularly filmed carrying out drills while Russia frequently boasts about the prowess of its Satan-2 nuclear missile.

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In a report for the Chatham House foreign policy think tank, Giles says Russia’s constant nuclear intimidation has so far delivered success.

But he says that while the chances of Putin actually using weapons remains slim – or “non-zero” as he puts it – they cannot be completely excluded.

Giles outlines the circumstances in which Russia could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine in his report.

“A nuclear strike could be ordered if there is no longer any possibility of claiming conventional victory and a powerful destructive attack on Ukraine is perceived as the only means of avoiding admission of a clear defeat,” he says.

“One or more nuclear strikes could form part of a scorched earth response intended simply to cause misery and destruction in Ukraine in recognition of Russian failure to conquer it.

“The rationale being that if Russia can’t have Ukraine, nobody can.

“This would mirror, on a vastly greater scale, the behaviour of individual Russian soldiers and units when presented with the reality of life in Ukraine, where rather than aspiring to it themselves, they seek to destroy it.”

This is because “western nuclear powers have given Moscow grounds for confidence that there would not be retaliation in kind” – a situation which needs to be “urgently revised”.

He says Putin’s comments about nuclear war have “disturbing aspects of Russia’s death cult and the idea that a ‘purifying apocalypse’ is something to be embraced.”

Giles argues western leaders’ belief that Putin is rational and doesn’t need to use nuclear weapons is the same faulty thinking that applied before the invasion of Ukraine.

“Western powers were scrambling to appease Moscow based on just the threat of invasion,” said Giles, the author of Russia’s War on Everybody: And What it Means for You.

“But Putin was intent on invading anyway regardless of whether this was seen outside the Kremlin as a rational step or not.

“In short, the argument that Russia would not use nuclear weapons because it would clearly not be in Russia’s interest to do so falls down on the example, once again, of the invasion of Ukraine.” 

Pronouncements by western leaders, in particular Joe Biden, have been ineffective and not gone far enough in warning Putin of the consequences for him personally.

“In particular it must be made clear in entirely unambiguous terms that any use of nuclear weapons, whether tactical or not, in Ukraine or beyond, would bring consequences that would be devastating not just to Russia but to Putin personally.

“Given Putin’s understandable tendency to disregard Western words and be guided instead by Western actions, the clarity in messaging must be reinforced by discernible indicators of preparedness to follow through on it.”

As well as Joe Biden, Giles singles out French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaz Scholz as being unwilling to fully back Ukraine in the face of Russian nuclear threats.

These threats will “continue to have their desired effect” for as long as Western leaders “continue to state clearly that they are effective in preventing Ukraine being provided with the military support that it needs to win the war”.

Speaking as he moved tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus, Putin insisted the move was the same “as the United States has been doing for decades”.

Russian nuclear strikes have to be officially signed off by Putin, who uses a small briefcase known as “The Cheget” – his equivalent of the US President’s so-called “nuclear football”.

In his report, Giles points out that to actually use nuclear weapons, Putin will have to overcome possible resistance by more sober-minded officers.

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But he argues that unless a clear message is sent to Putin that any nuclear threats will face consequences, then rogue states across the globe will feel emboldened.

“In this way, rather than being the safe course of action, being influenced by Russian nuclear threats could in fact be the greatest nuclear risk of all.”

Putin is always accompanied by a nuclear briefcase known as 'The Cheget'


Putin is always accompanied by a nuclear briefcase known as ‘The Cheget’


Iskander missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads have been moved to Belarus


Iskander missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads have been moved to BelarusCredit: Getty

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