In June 2023, Sergey Karaganov, one of the founders of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) of Russia – a nongovernmental associated created by a group of politicians, public and government figures, representatives of the defense and interior ministries, of the science community and the mass media of Russia – published an article entitled “A difficult but necessary decision. Use of nuclear weapons can save humanity from global catastrophe.” Among others, the article says that Russia, in order to win the war against Ukraine, “should launch a preemptive nuclear strike on Europe” so as “to break the West’s will”. According to the political scientist, such a blow will not lead to a global nuclear war as the United States would not dare to defend Europe for fear of a nuclear Armageddon.
Bad news for international community
A doctor of historical sciences and a political scientist, Sergey Karaganov during a long period of time has commented on the Soviet political history in a fully liberal way, predicting the “de-Communication” and “de-Stalinization” of Soviet society. But since 2004, when the CFDP became one of the founders of the Valdai Club, whose meetings regularly involve Vladimir Putin, Karaganov radically changed his views and this enabled him to become a member of the scientific council of the Security Council of Russia, which, against the background of the invasion of Ukraine, became a key body of the state power in Russia. According to Russian press reports, based on sources close to the Presidential Administration, Karaganov is considered a man who can influence the opinion of the secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. The latter, for his part, forms part of the inner circle of Putin.
The appearance of such an article, signed by an influential person from the doctrinaire slipstream of the Kremlin, is bad news for the international community. First of all, we should not forget that the views of the author can reflect and inspire the opinions of influential people from the Kremlin’s decision makers. Secondly, Karaganov’s arguments about the course of the historical process, according to which the West “dies and loses influence” should be surprised by “a powerful blow” and “history will be on our side” can seem logical and convincing for Putin and his company. Even if the goal of Karaganov is only to scare the West, as some experts believe, the article is rather capable of influencing the decisions of the Russian administration. Owing to the wish to be in unison with Putin’s wish to emerge victorious in the war, the text can be not only an element of nuclear discouragement for Ukraine’s allies, as some could hope, but also a superior step on the nuclear escalation ladder.
Most attractive option for Moscow in case of Ukraine
This fear amplifies against the background of the next thesis of the article, which stipulates that “it becomes increasingly clear that a clash with the West cannot end even if we win a partial or even a crushing victory in Ukraine”. Karaganov is sure that even the full occupation by the Russian army of the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhe and Kherson will be a really partial victory. “It will be a slightly bigger victory if we liberate the entire East and South of present-day Ukraine in the next year or two. But there will still remain a part of it with an even more embittered ultranationalist population pumped up with weapons―a bleeding wound threatening inevitable complications and a new war. Perhaps the worst situation may occur if, at the cost of enormous losses, we liberate the whole of Ukraine and remain in ruins with a population that mostly hates us. Its “redemption” will take more than a decade,” the article’s author said prophetically.
“A more attractive option would be liberating and reincorporating the East and the South of Ukraine, and forcing the rest to surrender, followed by complete demilitarization and the creation of a friendly buffer state. But this would be possible only if and when we are able to break the West’s will to incite and support the Kiev junta, and to force it to retreat strategically”.
“God’s weapons” as a solution for the West
“But what if they do not back down?”, wonders the author, referring to the West’s determination to support Ukraine. The use of nuclear weapons is what remains, considers Karaganov, suggesting that “we will have to hit a bunch of targets in a number of countries in order to bring those who have lost their mind to reason... This is a morally terrifying choice — we will use the weapon of God, dooming ourselves to severe spiritual losses. But if we don’t do this, not only Russia may perish, but most likely, the entire human civilization will come to an end”.
According to some of the analysts, Karaganov, by publishing his article, not really attempted to persuade Putin to hit Europe, but rather tries to scare the influential and high-ranking persons from the West with this opportunity and to persuade them to change their position on Ukraine. One of these analysts, Keir Giles, from the British policy institute Chatham House, views Russia’s discussions of a nuclear strike as a method of psychological warfare that the Kremlin resorts to when facing difficulties on the battlefield (while Karaganov’s article appeared shortly after the launch of the Ukrainian counteroffensive). But the same Giles admits that Putin often really concentrates on the propaganda media and loyal experts and this can fatally influence the decisions taken by the President of the Russian Federation.
Karaganov assumes FSB’s role from before launch of attack on Ukraine
The situation before the large-scale invasion of Ukraine, when the FSB persuaded Putin that the Ukrainians will meet the Russian soldiers with flowers, can serve as a relevant example. Ultimately, based on these statements and assessments that turned out to be absolutely erroneous, Putin launched the military aggression against Ukraine whose results do not match by far the initial expectations based on the truncated information of the Russian intelligence services. Now, the game started by Karaganov with not the clearest intentions again can seem a plan for an easy victory to the Russian administration. But this time the calculation mistake will definitely have catastrophic consequences not only for the Kremlin, but also for the whole humankind.
In such conditions, a group of members of the same Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy on July 13 issued a statement by which they condemn a “preemptive nuclear strike” by Russia. According to the statement, which expresses the opinion of its signatories but not of the Council as a whole, the idea of using a nuclear strike in the event of military failures in Ukraine is becoming increasingly widespread in Russia. The authors express the belief that such “pseudo-theoretical reasoning” and “emotional statements” are unacceptable, creating attitudes in Russian society that could lead to “catastrophic decisions.”
Sober Russian minds, but few in number
The authors of the statement noted that “hoping that a limited nuclear conflict can be managed and prevented from escalating into a global nuclear conflict is the height of irresponsibility. This means that at stake is the destruction of tens, perhaps even hundreds, of millions of people in Russia, Europe, China, the U.S., and other countries. This is a direct threat to humanity itself”.
In fact, a part of the heavyweight members from the Russian expert community criticize their mate from the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Sergey Karaganov for allowing using the nuclear weapon as a political argument in international relations. “We, members of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, consider such suggestions absolutely unacceptable and we unequivocally condemn them. No one at any time should blackmail humanity with the threat of nuclear weapons, let alone command their use in battle,” reads the statement.
Caribbean crisis 2.?
Given the contradictory expert note of different members of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, about the use of nuclear weapons, the decision makers from the Kremlin bear final responsibility for the action with existential value. President Putin in this connection admitted that Russia could “theoretically” use nuclear weapons in case of an existential threat to the state. But Putin also noted that the discussions about the use of such weapons reduce the level of practical use of these. The fact that in the Russian public space they easily discuss, at different levels, the use of nuclear weapons with the aim of solving political problems, points to serious mental deviations in Russia society, including among the decision-making politicians.
Today, as during the Caribbean (Cuban Missile) crisis of 1962, mankind found itself impermissibly close to the danger of a nuclear disaster and again the imperial policy pursued by Moscow caused this existential crisis for mankind.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.