Nuclear midnight ticks closer in wake of Russia’s Crimea threats

March 23, 2015
Russian President Putin watches the launch of a missile during naval exercises in Russia's Arctic ...

Russian President Putin watches the launch of a missile during naval exercises in Russia’s Arctic North on board the nuclear missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), Aug. 17, 2005. REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE

It’s been a year since Russia annexed Crimea and the nuclear rumors are flying. Earlier this month, Russian officials speculated about whether or not Russia could place nuclear weapons in Crimea. Admitting ignorance about what weapons were there now or whether there were any plans to deploy such weapons there, Mikhail Ulyanov, an official in charge of arms control for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “in principle, Russia can do it.”

And in a video apparently intended to mark the anniversary of the annexation, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he had considered putting Russian nuclear forces on alert at the time of annexation.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, idle speculation is never a good idea. In principle, countries can do a lot of things, and in retrospect, leaders may have considered a lot of options, but Ukraine and Crimea have been free of nuclear weapons for more than 20 years. It is in everyone’s best interest to maintain that reality.

For Russia, introducing nuclear weapons into Crimea would provide neither tactical nor strategic security advantages. Russia decided long ago to remove and eliminate intermediate-range missiles under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and to remove tactical nuclear weapons from the corners of the former Soviet Union. While Russia may bemoan its conventional-forces strength now, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not significantly more challenging. Ironically, deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Crimea could result in NATO pursuing options to increase its capabilities.

Absent a security rationale, any perceived political benefits must contend with the heavy political baggage associated with bringing nuclear weapons back to the Black Sea. More than 20 years ago, as the Soviet empire was crumbling, the prospect of “loose nukes” haunted not just the United States but also Russia and its former Soviet allies. Ukraine, which had hosted thousands of tactical nuclear weapons and what would have been the third-largest nuclear arsenal at the time, declared both its sovereignty and its intention to become a nonnuclear weapon state in 1990. The thousands of Russian tactical nuclear weapons stationed on Ukrainian soil were the first to go, in 1992, but it took a few more years to dismantle the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. Under a trilateral process involving Ukraine, Russia and the United States, some 176 long-range ballistic missiles and 42 strategic bombers armed with more than 1,800 nuclear warheads were eliminated. Ukraine joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994 as a nonnuclear weapon state.

The comments about Crimea and nuclear weapons can be dismissed as irresponsible and ill-advised, but Russian actions regarding nuclear weapons and arms control paint a dismal picture. So dismal, in fact, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its iconic Doomsday Clock two minutes forward in early 2015 to rest at 3 minutes to midnight. The clock, originally developed by scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project as a way to symbolize the danger of nuclear annihilation, has been updated every year since 1947, and now takes into account other hazards, such as climate change. Plans to negotiate further limits on strategic nuclear weapons have been iced, and inspections under the existing treaty (New START) have slowed. Hopes for talks to limit tactical nuclear weapons have evaporated, as Russian official statements have placed increasing importance on the role of tactical nuclear weapons to compensate for conventional-force weaknesses. More disturbing is the Russian development of a new ground-launched cruise missile, the Iskander-K, which the United States alleges violates the INF Treaty, which eliminated a whole class of intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

Even in conventional arms control, Russian cooperation has faltered. Last week, Russian officials also announced they were withdrawing from the Joint Consultative Group on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

Given the current breadth of dissatisfaction in the U.S.-Russia relationship, some observers might be tempted to respond to these provocations with a “good riddance” attitude. In times of rising tension, however, countries need venues in which to air differences, and the United States and Russia are no exception. Traditionally, arms control treaties have not only provided stability and predictability in strategic affairs but also afforded American and Russian officials opportunities to develop working relationships and keep dialogue open even if broader political relations have deteriorated. Now more than ever, U.S. and Russian officials need to come back to the table and not just talk, but also listen.

26 comments

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Nuclear war with Russia is inevitable.

Posted by Street-Wise-Guy | Report as abusive

“U.S. and Russian officials need to come back to the table and not just talk, but also listen.\'”

So , america, Reuters said you have to listen !!! And listen carefully

Posted by vento79 | Report as abusive

There is a missile that will stop Putin. It is fairly small, and made only of lead.
He’s good at bluffing, but is almost out of chips.

Posted by Ultramayan | Report as abusive

Its funny how the author seems to completely leave out the fact that we are trying to encircle Russia with missiles, under the guise of protecting Europe from Iran, Hahahaha! Like anybody in the world would believe that.

The US meddles in other countries affairs, surrounds them with there ‘peaceful’ military, and wonder why countries react this way.

This piece is very much Western propaganda. Just like every country in the world has propaganda, so do we.

Russia is doing what any rational country would do if they are being encircled: defending their interests!

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

Both sides of this argument are as bad as one another. The leaders of both sides should just meet on neutral, preferably uninhabited territory, and have a fist-fight, leaving the rest of us completely out of their little spat.

Posted by UKHedgehog | Report as abusive

The following comments were never more appropriate.

“Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
— Mark Twain

Posted by tradingdaze | Report as abusive

The following comments were never more appropriate.

“Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
— Mark Twain

Posted by tradingdaze | Report as abusive

With every day passing, this propaganda of Putin and Russia bashing seems just lame and in-competitive at best as most can see through this.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Interesting how most of the recent articles on Russia/Putin bashing are coming mostly from authors involved with the State.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Russia needs to be surrounded by defensive missiles, listen to Putin’s threats.

Posted by Amwatching2c | Report as abusive

That “Russia is being surrounded” justification for their aggressive posture has been spewed for 75 years. Yet they have never been attacked by the western democracies.

It is idiotic to think that a nation that takes up almost half of the Eurasian land mass wouldn’t be “surrounded” by enemies. They have to live somewhere.

Posted by WayneVan | Report as abusive

That “Russia is being surrounded” justification for their aggressive posture has been spewed for 75 years. Yet they have never been attacked by the western democracies.

It is idiotic to think that a nation that takes up almost half of the Eurasian land mass wouldn’t be “surrounded” by enemies. They have to live somewhere.

Posted by WayneVan | Report as abusive

This is ONLY about Egos and people whom have a GOD like complex, there is no need to invade anybody or cause WARS…its not about propaganda and who said what when! Its pure and simple HUMANs love to make WARs….

Posted by GOD007 | Report as abusive

I don’t think the general public has any clue how close we are to nuclear war. This situation is much more complex then the Cuban missile crisis as there was a lot less at stake and there was not at all the demonization of Putin and Russia that is going on now. I have never been more concerned about the imminence of a conflagration as I am now. I expect to see a flash at any moment. I have heard rumors that the POTUS isn’t even in control. Very scarey. During the Cuban Missile crisis the open line between Khrushchev and Kennedy allowed for a way out. Is that happening now? Are both sides trying to find a way out or making the situation worse? The media seems oblivious to the danger that we are in. Hard to believe but CNN seems more Hawkish then FauxNews. i have little confidence that cooler heads will prevail.

Posted by Valhala | Report as abusive

No_apartheid:

“Its funny how the author seems to completely leave out the fact that we are trying to encircle Russia with missiles, under the guise of protecting Europe from Iran”

Who’s “we”?

Posted by KVM342 | Report as abusive

“For Russia, introducing nuclear weapons into Crimea would provide neither tactical nor strategic security advantages.”

Exactly. This is why ginning up these stupid stories is nothing other than anti-Russian propaganda. Get a life, really!

Posted by Bookfan | Report as abusive

What do we have here running the White House State Department? Victoria Nuland running some end-of-times cult?

Did she, and her cohorts, really know what they were doing when they proudly engineered the Ukrainian coup, against a democratically elected government no less?

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

I am sorry, but treaties don’t really make a difference.

Posted by Cpt.Angelus | Report as abusive

Looks like Putin is having a Vladgasm.

Posted by Broken1 | Report as abusive

The madmen (and women) in the administration have got me terrified. The demonisation of Putin is unbelievable – I think we are in greater danger of a nuke first strike than Ever before. They actually decided they could “win” an atomic war.
And the “reasons” are simply unbelievable – the plane wasn’t shot down with a buk missile, that would have been visible for many miles away. It was shot down by a jet, probably from the Ukraine. Hell the cockpit is full of machine gun holes. And if there were Russian tanks crossing the border they would have satelite photos (and the rebels would have nice new equipment instead of fixed up junk).
It’s just crazy – and the sheeple let them get away with the lies by being stubbornly stupid and full of irrational hate.
Putin is actually being incredibly diplomatic and restrained.

Posted by JohnCook | Report as abusive

Vento79, Reuter’s says no such thing, and of course I am going to offer some advise. Find a course in reading and reading comprehension, and then when you deliberately drop parts of an authors quote, then you won’t look like an idiot!

Posted by framefiller | Report as abusive

Crimea belongs to Russia. 98% votes dont lie! Proud Crimean.

Posted by Kasoy | Report as abusive

What Reuters and other news organizations do not do is put events within a historical perspective–if you look at history since the fall of the USSR you will see a pattern of imperial aggression very much like the sort of aggression the U.S. maintained in its wars on Native Americans and the Mexicans in the 19th century. The U.S. believes in “full spectrum dominance” and will not allow any rivals to emerge particularly Russia. The U.S. has no interest in multi-polar world only vassal states. After WWII, in contrast, the U.S. did seek a dominant position but within a series of international structures that provided order–this idea of course was perverted by Imperialist factions within the U.S. power elite that eventually emerged completely triumphant after 9/11.

Posted by cstahnke | Report as abusive

Russia is inconsequential. It is a state in decline. They now have an economy smaller than Italy’s. And GDP per capita in Russia is now lower than Czech Republic or Slovenia.

Putin had a chance to build the economy up. Instead, he spent those years arresting girls in rock and roll bands, and trying to re-capture Chernobyl. Totally incompetent leader of a third world country.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

At the root of all this are simple trade and commerce issues that we won’t honestly address. If you think these issues are marginal or inconsequential consider the latest raft of treaties (TPP, and Trans-Atlantic) are being negotiated in a complete balckout and beyond the purview and consent of our congress.

“when goods won’t cross borders, armies will”

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

She writes as if Putin and his ilk somehow care what she has to say, as if talking by itself will solve all of our problems; in this sense she’s like the Obama administration, which believes that words without any actions are sufficient in themselves. Events of the past year have shown that approach to be entirely inadequate.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive