Fears grow that desperate Putin could attack Ukraine nuclear plant as Russian losses mount

fears grow that desperate putin could attack ukraine nuclear plant as russian losses mount

With every new defeat suffered by Russia on the battlefield the likelihood of Vladimir Putin responding with an unconventional – and nuclear – attack grows a little likelier.

And the losses and humiliations keep getting worse for the Kremlin.

Just hours after a concert on Moscow’s Red Square on Friday, at which Putin proclaimed the provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be Russian territory forever, Ukraine recaptured Lyman, the main Russian base in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

On Monday, Ukrainian forces achieved their biggest breakthrough in the south of the country since the war began, bursting through the front in Kherson and advancing rapidly along the Dnipro River, threatening supply lines for thousands of Russian troops.

Former US national security adviser H R McMaster has said the defeat at Lyman “could turn into a cascading series of defeats for the Russians… What we might be here is really at the precipice of the collapse of the Russian army in Ukraine.”

So, questions over how a cornered Putin will reaction seem more urgent than ever.

Already, at least one extreme nationalist voice in Russia is calling for a nuclear response.

Thuggish Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said that Russia needs to liberate the annexed four provinces with all available means, including low-yield nuclear weapons.

The Institute for the Study of War says there are already signs that Putin recognises the dangerous path that Kadyrov and Evgeniy Prigozhin, the man behind the Wagner mercenaries group, have begun to tread, with state television channels criticising the Chechen warlord.

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One British military expert has cast doubt not only on whether the Russian President is willing to risk using tactical, battlefield nuclear weapons, but whether he is actually able to.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former commander of the UK and Nato chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) forces, thinks Putin’s tactical nuclear weapons are unusable. “Even if their vehicles do work, the minute they turn their engines on to move they will be picked up by US and NATO intelligence,” he said.

He thinks it likely the launchers would need to travel hundreds of miles to be in a position where they could attack Ukraine, because their strike range was limited to 500km. “But from a mechanical perspective it’s unlikely, in my opinion, that they would get that far,” he told CNN.

Last weekend Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, declared nuclear weapon use would result in “catastrophic consequences” for Russia, adding that in private communications with Moscow, the United States had “spelled out” how America and the world would react.

Some experts believe Mr Sullivan has indicated that the US and Nato are willing and able to take out Russia’s battlefield nukes before they are launched.

The question remains, then, what might Putin resort to, if he continues to lose the war – and face humiliation and the loss of power at home?

De Bretton-Gordon said “the most likely nuclear scenario” would be an attack on a nuclear power station. “This could have a similar effect to a tactical nuclear explosion but would be easier to deny for the Russians, who accuse Ukraine of deliberately bombing their own power stations,” he said.

Given this risk, applying diplomatic pressure on Russia’s allies China and India to deter Putin from launching a nuclear castrophe seems more urgent than ever.

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