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Will Russia’s Nuclear Diplomacy Yield Results?

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On September 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced partial mobilization in the country and his address to the nation, he said that “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will undoubtedly use all means to protect Russia and our people, this is not a bluff.”[1]

Russia’s failure to find what it hoped for, especially in Ukraine, led the Kremlin to decide on military mobilization for the first time since the World War II. Putin’s remarks implying that he could use nuclear weapons were not considered a bluff in the West. The High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, stated that they should take Putin’s statements seriously and stated that the war has reached a dangerous moment because the Russian Army is cornered.[2] John Kirby, the United States (US) National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications said that they take Putin’s rhetoric seriously and that the decision to mobilize means that Russia is being struggled in Ukraine.[3]

As it is understood, Putin’s statements have been perceived as a sign of desperation rather than a bluff in the Western World. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, led to the abandonment of “diplomatic discourses and initiatives” between Moscow and the West. Considering that Russia is the party cornered in Ukraine, it can be said that the Kremlin wants to return to a certain level of diplomacy with the West again with its “nuclear” emphasis. Therefore, it can be suggested that Russia wants to use the issue of “nuclear weapons” as a tool on the way to diplomacy.

In this context, some recent developments can be interpreted as Russia getting results from its nuclear diplomacy. For example, US President Joe Biden called Putin a “killer” even before the war began. In an interview with CNN on October 12, 2022, Biden described Putin as “a rational person who has miscalculated significantly.”[4] There is no doubt that the increasing nuclear danger was instrumental in Biden making such a statement.

Although there has been no change in the attitude of the US and the West towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the issue of “nuclear weapons” pushes the parties to give more moderated messages. Because Biden stated that the nuclear risk has reached the highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and Putin was not joking in his statement about using tactical nuclear weapons.[5] Therefore, after Putin’s statements, it is seen that signs of softening between Russia and the West based on “discourse” have emerged.

The situation also leads to an increase in contact between the parties. For example, between 21-23 October 2022, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held two meetings. These talks were the first contact between the two ministers after May 2022.[6] In addition to his US counterpart, Shoigu also held talks with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. In this context, it can be said that Putin’s nuclear rhetoric created a “catalyst” effect in the realization of the talks.

It is possible to say that the process that started with Putin’s nuclear weapons statements opened the door to diplomatic contacts between the parties and that the West was afraid of a nuclear escalation. In this context, Putin, with his partial mobilization decision and statements implying the use of nuclear weapons, has tried to give the message that “If Russia is defeated, the whole world will lose.”[7] The statements of the Russian leader must have considered that the contact between the West and Russia has intensified recently.

Consequently, the process that began with Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine has brought the level of diplomatic relations between the West and Moscow to the lowest point after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Russia’s inability to advance as much as it hoped in Ukraine and the realization that it is lagging in terms of conventional weapons in the face of the West have led Putin to resort to nuclear weapons rhetoric. It is understood that the Russian President’s primary goal with the “allusion of nuclear weapons” is to open the door to re-establishing diplomatic talks between the West and Russia. Therefore, it can be argued that Moscow is using the rhetoric of nuclear weapons as an element of deterrence in the re-establishment of diplomacy. Certainly, the negotiations that have taken place also point to the fact that nuclear weapons maintain their deterrence.


[1] Guy Faulconbridge, “Putin Escalates Ukraine War, Issues Nuclear Threat To West”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/putin-signs-decree-mobilisation-says-west-wants-destroy-russia-2022-09-21/, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

[2] Clothilde Goujard, “EU Chief Diplomat: Must Take Seriously Putin’s Nuclear Weapons Threat”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-josep-borrell-chief-diplomat-russia-war-ukraine-nuclear-weapons-threat/, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

[3] Myah Ward, “John Kirby: Putin Calling Up More Troops For Ukraine War is A Sign That He’s Struggling”, Politico, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/21/white-house-putin-mobilization-struggling-00057995, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

[4] “Biden Says Putin is A ‘Rational Actor’ Who Would Not Use Nuclear”, Euractiv, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/biden-says-putin-is-a-rational-actor-who-would-not-use-nuclear-weapon/, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

[5] “Ukraine War: Biden Says Nuclear Risk Highest Since 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis”, BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-63167947, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

[6] Russia’s Shoigu Holds Second Call With U.S. Defense Secretary in Three Days, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/russias-shoigu-holds-second-call-with-us-defense-secretary-three-days-2022-10-23/, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

[7] Doğacan Başaran, “Ukrayna Savaşı’nda Rusya’nın Yeni Hamlesi: Kısmi Seferberlik”, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/ukrayna-savasinda-rusyanin-yeni-hamlesi-kismi-seferberlik/, (Date of Accession:25.10.2022).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.