Putin Orders Russian Nuclear Forces on Alert Status as His Ukrainian Adventure Stalls

Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to up the ante on his Ukraine adventure on Sunday by ordering Russian nuclear forces onto alert status.

Putin, in giving the nuclear alert directive, cited not only statements by NATO members but the hard-hitting financial sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, including the Russian leader himself.

Speaking at a meeting with his top officials, Putin told his defense minister and the chief of the military’s General Staff to put nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty.”

“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said in televised comments.


My assessment:

  • The invasion of Ukraine is not going well. The Russian campaign plan seemed to be based on a series of what turned out to be flawed assumptions. They assumed the Ukrainian armed forces would be ineffectual if they did not totally melt away; they assumed Ukrainian feeling of pan-Slavism would see them flock to the side of the Russians; they assumed the Ukrainian government would be on the first plane out of the country on Wednesday, and they assumed that the entire affair would be wrapped up in 48-hours. None of that happened (Putin Shows Signs of Panic, as He Calls on Ukraine Military to Mutiny. In fact, the Ukrainians’ very clever propaganda campaign has succeeded in making President Zelensky into a heroic figure (Ukrainian President Zelensky Tells Russia to Pound Sand — and Hits Joe Biden’s Impotence).
  • The second round of sanctions announced yesterday caught Putin by surprise. Those sanctions which impede the ability of the Russian central bank to draw on gold and foreign currency reserves will become very serious in the next few weeks. The sanctions against Putin, himself, while a null-set economically hit him in his most vulnerable area, that would be his ego.
  • The outpouring of popular pro-Ukraine activity across Europe, like pulling a soccer tournament from Russia, street demonstrations, most of Western Europe closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, etc., caught Putin by surprise. As this exercise was supposed to showcase Russia’s power, it has backfired spectacularly in making Russia a pariah in Europe.


Unlike the United States, which tends to observe treaties, the requirements of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty have largely been ignored by Russia. As a result, Russia retains battlefield nuclear weapons, and their open-source doctrine says they believe they can use those with impunity because the US does not have comparable weapons, and escalation would be to an ICMB exchange.

At this point, I think we should all look at this order for what it is. Putin is on the verge of being humiliated, and he’s trying to return what has become a widespread governmental and popular backlash to the Ukraine invasion to a battlespace he controls. If the war persists for another week, which will mean the Russian Army in Ukraine is on the cusp of a spectacular failure, if not outright collapse, the calculus changes.



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