The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has led to a substantial ratcheting up of global tensions and heightened chances for another world war, this time with the very real possibility of the devastating and potentially civilization-ending use of powerful nuclear weapons.
The nuclear rhetoric was ramped up even further by a top Russian official who declared on Sunday that Russia could feel compelled to use nuclear weapons if Russian land were to be successfully seized by NATO-backed Ukrainian forces, Breitbart reported.
That nuclear threat came from former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a top ally of current Russian President Vladimir Putin who now serves as the deputy chairman of the Russian Federation's Security Council and who has been among the most belligerently outspoken of Kremlin officials.
In a post in Russian to his Telegram account on Sunday, Medvedev was translated to have said, "Our Armed Forces, repelling the counteroffensive of the collective enemy, protect the citizens of Russia and our land. This is obvious to all decent people."
"But beyond that, they prevent world conflict," he continued. "After all, if we imagine that the offensive of the [Ukrainian Nazis] with the support of NATO was successful and they seized part of our land, then we would have to, by virtue of the rules of the decree of the President of Russia dated 06/02/2020, go for the use of nuclear weapons."
Medvedev added, "There is simply no other way out. Therefore, our enemies must pray to our warriors. They do not allow the global nuclear fire to flare up."
Breitbart noted Medvedev's reference to a 2020 decree from President Putin, which was an executive order issued on June 2, 2020, that outlined the "BASIC PRINCIPLES of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence."
In the third section of that document, which deals with the "conditions" in which Russia might consider the use of nuclear weapons, it was declared that "The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy."
Aside from in response to a purported existential threat, another justifiable condition for the authorized use of nuclear weapons by Russia includes any "attack by an adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions."
With regard to Medvedev's nuclear threat in response to the seizure of Russian land, Breitbart further noted that Ukrainian forces, with the support of NATO, are engaged in a counteroffensive to reseize control over the Crimean Peninsula and the Donetsk region, both of which contain large ethnic Russian populations and were dubiously annexed and claimed as sovereign territory by Russia.
The outlet also highlighted how Ukraine has increasingly launched drone attacks into undisputed Russian territory, including against the Kremlin in Moscow, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is reported to have said this weekend that "war is returning to the territory of Russia" as well as that it was "inevitable, natural and absolutely fair" for targets within Russia to be hit by Ukraine.
It is not too much of a stretch to surmise that Russian leaders could declare that the recapture of territory in Crimea or Donetsk by Ukrainian forces constitutes the seizure of "Russian land" or poses an existential threat to the Russian state, which could trigger the use of nuclear weapons in response.
Nor is it too difficult to believe that Ukrainian drone attacks within the Russian heartland, particularly if they were to cause significant damage to the Kremlin or important military installations, could be similarly deemed consequential enough to justify a nuclear response.
Of course, this is far from the first time that Russia has rattled its nuclear saber, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on behalf of President Joe Biden last year about prior nuclear threats, warned that the White House had "communicated directly, privately and at very high levels to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia."