What do Shoigu’s “Nuclear Triad” Statements Indicate?

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It is seen that the Russian-Ukrainian War, which began on February 24, 2022, has brought nuclear weapons back to the agenda, an old debate in the international relations literature. Because states; Considering the fact that they can cause irreparable destruction through the use of nuclear weapons, it has taken steps towards the limitation of nuclear weapons since the détente period of the Cold War, and since the 2000s, particularly with the emergence of the search for multipolarity, the agreements limiting the nuclear arms race have begun to be shelved one by one. The Russian-Ukrainian War, on the other hand, brought about the use of nuclear weapons as a means of blackmail, even if it did not lead to the use of these weapons. Because from the beginning of the war, Moscow has given the message that it can resort to the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary, in various periods.

The last of these statements was made by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu on January 10, 2023. Commenting on the issue, Shoigu said that they will continue to develop  the “nuclear triad” consisting of strategic aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarines, and said, “The nuclear shield is the main guarantor of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” he said.[1] Undoubtedly, Shoigu’s words reveal that the nuclear security environment has become more fragile than ever. The “nuclear triad” refers to the ability of an army to launch nuclear missiles from the air, land, and sea, and includes strategic warplanes, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and missile submarines.[2]

At this point, the background of the Moscow administration’s threat to use nuclear weapons and the fact that it draws attention to nuclear weapons is that things are not going well in the war in Ukraine. In this sense, it can be argued that the Kremlin is trying to impose its control over the regions it has seized through nuclear deterrence, which means, the current status quo.

At the same time, it can be stated that Russia is making an effort to prevent Western support for Ukraine. Hence, the Moscow administration is trying to change the attitude of Western actors on the Ukraine War with its threats to use nuclear weapons. Even if Russia fails to do so, it expects the uneasiness created by the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons to cause a rupture within the West. In other words, Moscow aims to lead to a division between Western states. However, it seems unlikely that the Kremlin will achieve its mentioned goal. Because Moscow’s rhetoric is considered unrealistic.

It is possible to base the rationality of Russia’s use of its nuclear power despite these outbursts on the basis of the document titled “Basic Principles of State Policy on the Nuclear Deterrence of the Russian Federation” signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 8, 2020.  Because in the document in question, the situations in which Russia may resort to the use of nuclear weapons are listed as follows:[3]

  • Obtaining reliable information that ballistic missiles have been launched against Russia or its allies
  • Attacks on Russia or its allies by an enemy state with weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons
  • Attacks on strategic state institutions or military installations of Russia
  • The formation of a conventional situation that threatens the survival of Russia.

Considering the above statements in the said document, it can be said that Russia’s use of nuclear weapons is also not in accordance with its own nuclear doctrine. First of all, the current war is taking place on the territory of Ukraine. Therefore, there is no situation that will threaten the survival of Russia. Moreover, there is no attack on Russian territory. Therefore, there is no risk to Russia’s strategic institutions.  As can be understood, in such an environment, Russia is instrumentalizing the threat of using nuclear weapons as a means of pressure.

Another reason for the Kremlin’s use of the mentioned rhetoric is to reduce the sanctions pressure on Russia and to extract concessions from both Ukraine and the West in order to achieve maximum gains by drawing the focus of attention to nuclear weapons in possible negotiations. Consequently, Shoigu’s bringing nuclear weapons to the agenda of the international community once again on January 10, 2023 through his emphasis on the “nuclear triad” can be interpreted as a continuation of this policy.

As a result, Russia has begun to talk about the use of its nuclear weapons after the war in Ukraine revealed that things were not going well on the ground. Although there is no concrete indication that the Moscow administration may resort to nuclear weapons in the current situation, it is obvious that the formation of such an agenda will accelerate the nuclear arms race. And this is not just about the Ukraine war; it creates an extremely fragile ground in the context of the global security environment.

[1] “Rusya Savunma Bakanı Şoygu’dan “Nükleer Üçlü” Açıklaması”, Anadolu Ajansı,, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).

[2] “Şoygu: ‘Nükleer üçleme’, Rusya’nın Egemenliğinin Ana Garantörü”, Sputnik News,, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).

[3] Şafak Oğuz, “The Dangerous Dimension in the Russia-Ukraine War: The Nuclear Threat”, ANKASAM,, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.