Why, in the face of Russian nuclear doctrine, is the West clearly inferior in 2024?

A recent report published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) analyzes in detail, Russian nuclear doctrine today, particularly with regard to the potential use of non-strategic nuclear weapons. This highlights numerous and significant differences with Western doctrines, putting Europe in a weak situation in many cases, including in the assistance it can provide to Ukraine.

What are the pillars, today, which shape this doctrine of use of nuclear weapons in Russia? Why is it so effective against Western countries, including the United States? And how does it threaten Ukraine and Europe?

The evolution of the doctrine of the use of nuclear weapons, from the Soviet Union to Russia

During the Cold War, the use of nuclear weapons was omnipresent in Soviet doctrine. For this, Soviet arsenals had a vast array of nuclear munitions, ranging from artillery shells to intercontinental ballistic missiles, including traditional bombs, underwater mines and even mortar shells. At that time, Russian doctrine considered that nuclear weapons could be used for tactical purposes, while keeping the possibility of strategic escalation under control.

Russian Iskander-M nuclear doctrine
Russia has a vast array of mixed-use systems, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, or a conventional warhead, such as the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile.

This posture lasted until the end of the Cold War, bringing with it out-of-control spending to supply the arsenals with nuclear weapons and munitions, and to maintain them in good condition, which was not always the case.

If the period following the end of the Cold War was marked by the withdrawal of a majority of these weapon systems, Russia quickly returned to a defensive posture which made nuclear weapons the pivot of its deterrence capabilities. , under the influence of Western interventions against Iraq or Serbia, with significant long-range precision strike assets.

In fact, from the beginning of the 2000s, and the arrival of Vladimir Putin at the head of the Kremlin, significant efforts were made to modernize the nuclear and mixed-use arsenal of the Russian armed forces.

As such, many of the munitions that are making news in Russia today, such as the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile, its Kinzhal airborne version, the Kalibr and Kh-101 cruise missiles, and the RS-28 Sarmat and R-30 Bulava strategic missiles, find their origin or their technological and industrial inflection point in the early 2000s.

The Russian army has been training for scenarios including nuclear strikes since 1999.

At the same time, the use of nuclear weapons, for operational purposes, was once again integrated into the major annual exercises of the Russian armies, in particular during the Zapad (west) exercise, which takes place every four years. , with the scenario of a possible confrontation against NATO forces.

exercise Zapad 2021
Like all Zapad exercises since 1999, the Zapad 2021 exercise was based on a scenario integrating the simulated use of a non-strategic nuclear weapon by the Russian armies.

The return of the simulated use of nuclear weapons by the Russian armed forces took place as early as the Zapad 1999 exercise, and was integrated into all Zapad exercises following, but also, from Zapad 2013, in the scenarios of the other major exercises Tcentr, Kavkaz and Vostok (east).


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