Russian President Vladimir Putin has reignited fears that he is about to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine following a viral video and a defense analyst’s comments.
The video, posted Sunday on Twitter and viewed more than 250,000 times, initially appeared on the pro-Russia Telegram channel Rybar. “Another train with military equipment going to the front by rail somewhere in central Russia,” Twitter user NovichokRossiya captioned the video. “At first glance, there is nothing special about it. But upon closer examination, you can see KamAZ-43269 “Shot” standing on the platforms with combat modules “Spoke.”
Poland-based defense analyst Konrad Muzyka tweeted that the video is even more significant. “This ‘another train with military equipment’ is actually carrying kit belonging to the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defence,” Muzyka commented while sharing the post. “The directorate is responsible for nuclear munitions, their storage, maintenance, transport and issuance to units.”
As a result, there have been reports that Russia could be close to using nuclear weapons against Ukraine, following the major counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces that has led to retreats by Russian troops in parts of the country. In addition, Putin recently warned the West that any attack on Russia could provoke a nuclear response, pointedly noting that he was not bluffing.
However, Muzyka said that the sight of this train does not automatically mean nuclear weapons are going to be used in the war.
In a follow-up tweet, he wrote: “Does that mean that this video shows preparations for a nuclear release? Not really. There are other more likely explanations 1) It could be a form of signaling to the West that Moscow is escalating.
“2) Russian RVSN forces usually train extensively during autumn. 3) Russia may conduct GROM strategic deterrence exercise in October. So this train could be showing a prep for this drill.”
Marina Miron, a research fellow in the Defense Studies Department’s Center for Military Ethics at Kings College London, spoke to Newsweek about concerns that there could be a nuclear escalation in the Ukrainian conflict.
“Ukrainian sources indicate that there is a high risk of a nuclear escalation. The Military Doctrine of 2014 indicates, for instance, that Russia would use strategic nuclear weapons if nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction are used against Russia or its allies or if there is an imminent military threat to the survival of the Russian state,” Miron said.
“On the one hand, it would be strategically unwise to use them in Ukraine, because those territories would become uninhabitable. On the other hand, this could lead to an escalation of war,” she said.
While noting the devastation nuclear weapons would inflict on Ukraine, Miron emphasized that Putin is aware that the threat of using them could work as a scare tactic against NATO.
She said, “Putin is well aware of both consequences. However, he knows that this kind of deterrence tends to work, given that one can never completely exclude the possibility of their use.
“The presence of those weapons in Donbas might deter NATO from making the Ukrainian forces too strong in fear that this might provoke Russia to use tactical nukes. It is political signaling more than anything else.” (The Donbas is an area in eastern Ukraine that encompasses two separatist regions where pro-Russia rebels have waged an insurgency since 2014.)
Miron also said that Putin has already used this tactic, in the early days of the war. At that time, he ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces to be put on high alert.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.