Shake That Saber
Putin’s Nuclear Megaphone

Yesterday, Putin was rattling the nuclear saber by threatening to put Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, on the Baltic, in response to the U.S. plan to put armor in the region. Today, he’s waving that saber around in the air. Reuters:

“More than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles able to overcome even the most technically advanced anti-missile defense systems will be added to the make-up of the nuclear arsenal this year,” Putin, flanked by army officers, said in a speech to a military and arms fair. […]

“The feeling is that our colleagues from NATO countries are pushing us into an arms race,” RIA news agency quoted Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov as saying on the sidelines of the arms fair.

This week’s escalating rhetoric about nukes is a new low, and one that demonstrates how far south the relationship between Russia and the West has gone under a U.S. President who rose to fame and Nobel laureate status based on his nonproliferation chops and amid promises of a “reset” with Russia.

It’s now more than fair to call the reset an abject failure, not least because this is hardly the first time Russia has pulled out the nuclear blackmail trick. In March, the country’s ambassador to Denmark threatened nuclear strikes on Danish warships if Copenhagen signed on with a NATO missile defense shield—a move that, like this latest threat, was aimed at driving a wedge between NATO member countries. As we wrote at that time, the Kremlin is keenly aware of the billions it spends on Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal. Since Putin can’t actually use the things as weapons, and he can’t get rid of them, he can at least use them as a megaphone. That seems to be what he is doing now—but that, of course, doesn’t make the threat that nuclear standoffs pose to the world any less real.

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