Risks of nuclear escalation in Ukraine remain high, says RAND Corporation


During the first months following the Russian aggression, Western chancelleries feared a nuclear escalation in Ukraine, and even the use by Russia of nuclear weapons, sometimes referred to as tactical or low intensity, if military operations came to an end. fail.

So in March 2022, after it became clear that Ukraine would not fall in a few days, France announced that it had deployed three of its SSBNs, the missile-launching nuclear submarines which carry the second-strike capability of the French deterrent. This was a first since 1983 and the Euromissile crisis.

A diffuse perception of the threat of escalation of the Ukrainian conflict in the West

Since then, the fear of seeing the conflict escalate, either by extending beyond Ukraine's borders or by the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, has significantly diminished both in public opinion and in highest levels of state, in France and more generally in the Western world.

This drop in vigilance is not only linked to the assimilation of the threat, as was the case during the Cold War. The numerous threats and red lines drawn by Russia, particularly with regard to the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, having not been followed up on, the very perception of the threat has naturally diminished.

SSBN deterrent the Triumphant
France had simultaneously deployed 3 SSBNs at sea to strengthen its deterrence in March 2022, in response to the risks of escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.

It is now almost no longer at the heart of public debate, including in the media, even when certain political figures, such as D. Medvedev or Sergei Karaganov, openly call for hitting Ukraine and NATO with Russian nuclear weapons to , they hope, to end the conflict.

However, the threat of escalation of the Ukrainian conflict remains very high, including in the nuclear field. It is in any case the conclusion reached by the Rand Corporation in a report published a few days ago.

Rand Corporation report on risks of nuclear escalation in Ukraine

To carry out this analysis, researchers from the American think tank interviewed around fifteen recognized specialists on the subject last spring, in order to identify the dominant positions, as well as the divergent approaches of each.

According to this report, the risks of an escalation of the conflict remain unchanged today, despite the lack of response from the Russian authorities to the red lines that they themselves had drawn.

Russian tank destroyed in Ukraine
The hypothesis of a probable defeat in Ukraine may lead the Russian authorities to cross the nuclear threshold according to the Rand

Indeed, the Kremlin has so far refrained from any response through the combined action of fear of NATO's military power, that of seeing itself abandoned by its international partners, particularly China, and above all the certainty to be able to win the conflict without it being necessary to go beyond the present situation.

Consequently, anything that weakens this triptych could convince the Russian authorities of the necessity or advisability of a stopover, including concerning the use of weapons hitherto prohibited.

The pivots of the Russian escalation decision


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