Ukraine: Bolton discusses ‘deterrent’ to nuclear strike
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Vladimir Putin needs to be aware that any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine would put his own life at risk, former US National Security Advisor John Bolton has told Express.co.uk. But the ex-Ambassador to the United Nations also suggested there was nothing to indicate the Russian President was currently planning to act on his repeated threats – while suggesting they had “intimidated” US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders.
Mr Bolton – who served as an adviser to former US President Donald Trump – has mentioned the idea in passing before – but, speaking via video link from his office in Washington, he offered a more detailed explanation.
He said: “I don’t think it would be unprecedented. This is another question in deterrence.
“You can deter in part by telling a potential adversary what the consequences would be if they take a certain action.
“The aim is to say, if you do X the cost that you will incur, thereby will be substantially greater than whatever benefit you think you’re going to get by doing X.
“And therefore, the rational actor on the other side says, Okay, I’m not going to do X.
“A lot of a lot of things have been suggested about what a NATO response to the use of a nuclear weapon would be – destroying Russian forces in Ukraine, destroying the Black Sea Fleet, things like that.
“I don’t have any problem with those as steps to take – the Russians invaded Ukraine unprovoked, they’re going to have to take their chances.
“But from a deterrence point of view you have to ask what is a credible threat that would stop the Russians from dropping a nuclear weapon, even a tactical nuclear weapon, to begin with?
“And I think further you want to, to the extent you can, hold responsible, the people who make the decisions and the people who are responsible.
“Russian extra troops on the ground in Ukraine are not responsible for making a decision to use nuclear weapons.
“So if you’re going to levy responsibility, levy it on the people who make the decision, and that’s Vladimir Putin.
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If somebody can think of a more powerful deterrent, to tell Putin to get him not to use a nuclear weapon, I’m happy to hear it
“If somebody can think of a more powerful deterrent, to tell Putin to get him not to use a nuclear weapon, I’m happy to hear it.
“That seems to me to be a pretty powerful and persuasive threat to make.”
Assessing how seriously the West needed to take suggestions by Putin that he could use nuclear weapons, Mr Bolton said: “I think he’s been trying to intimidate the West ever since the Russians invaded on February 24 and I think he’s had some success.
“If you go back near the beginning, when the Poles said, why don’t we send these Russian MiGs we have to the Ukrainians, Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State said, ‘Yes, we’re going to do that’ and Joe Biden, the President said, ‘No, we’re not because it’s going to upset the Russians’.
“We’ve heard repeatedly concerns about the supply of increasingly sophisticated weapons systems to Ukraine, because of a fear of World War 3, which is an exaggerated threat.
“Biden just did it again a week or so ago, when he said the use of a nuclear weapon would lead us directly to Armageddon.
“So Biden is being intimidated and so are other Western leaders in France and Germany and elsewhere.”
Despite Putin’s original announcement, shortly after launching his invasion, that he was increasing the alert status of his nuclear forces, there was no evidence of him taking any “operational steps to implement a nuclear threat”, Mr Bolton stressed.
He added: “So based on what we know, at least publicly, we considered it all to be bluff.
“Now, is there any seriousness there beyond the effort to intimidate Biden and others? I think if we were in a situation which we’re not at the moment where Russian troops were in wholesale retreat back into the international Ukrainian/Russian border, I think then Putin would be in a much more difficult situation militarily and a much more difficult situation in domestic Russian political terms.
“And at that point, in extremis, extreme measures like use of a nuclear weapon might seem to him more likely.
“I don’t think we’re there yet. I think given recent Ukrainian military successes, we’re closer to it, I don’t think you can buck reality on this, but I don’t think we’re at that point. So right now, the threats are still bluffs.”
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