Will Russia use nuclear weapons?

STORY: Will Russia use nuclear weapons?

President Vladimir Putin has warned he’s ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia amid the war in Ukraine.

Putin cautioned it was no bluff. And the U.S. and NATO are taking him seriously.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan - Edit 9223

“I've been clear myself, President Biden has been clear, our administration has been clear that there is a risk, given all of the loose talk and the nuclear sabre rattling by Putin, that he would consider this. And we've been equally clear about what the consequences would be. We have communicated that directly to the Russians.”

Nuclear threat

Moscow’s nuclear doctrine allows for a strike after, quote, "aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened."

By claiming 18% of Ukraine as part of Russia, the threat increased, as the Kremlin could cast any attack on those territories as an attack on Russia itself.

Some British newspaper reports suggest Putin may already be planning a nuclear test on Ukraine's border.

The Kremlin dismissed that as, quote, "nuclear rhetoric."

Atomic arsenal

Putin controls the world's largest nuclear arsenal, including a new generation of hypersonic weapons and smaller tactical nuclear weapons.

Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, the U.S. has 5,428, China has 350, France has 290 and the United Kingdom has 225, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

Strike options

Tactical nuclear weapons, usually a nuclear device used on the battlefield, have much smaller explosive power than the strategic nuclear warheads.

They could be launched by sea, air or land - though their effectiveness is a matter of debate among military experts.

Alternatively a weapon could be detonated over a remote, unpopulated area or a body of water, like the Black Sea, as a chilling demonstration of intent.

Radioactive fallout would be limited to around half a mile.

Western response

"America's fully prepared to defend every single inch of NATO territory, every single inch. So, Mr Putin don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Every single inch."

NATO and the U.S. have not detailed publicly how they would respond to a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine, but Washington says it's spelled out to Moscow the "catastrophic consequences" that would follow.

Options include a non-military response, a conventional military response throwing Washington or NATO into a direct war with Moscow, or a nuclear strike risking serious and immediate escalation.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Our message is that any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable, it will totally change the nature of the conflict, and Russia must know that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." edit: 8362