Putin's Allies Are Divided Over When To Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine War

Seeds of division appear to be growing amongst the allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin after an apparent dispute broke out over whether to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

On Saturday, the head of Russia's Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, called on Putin to deploy nuclear weapons, but by Monday an official response seemed to slap him down.

Kadyrov made his demands after Russian troops suffered a humiliating defeat in the city of Lyman. In a Telegram post, he said: "In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons. It is not necessary to take every decision with an eye on the Western American community—it has already said so and done a lot against us."

Governor of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov
Governor of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, pictured at the Grand Kremlin Palace on October 5, 2017, in Moscow, Russia. Getty Images

But just two days later, such demands were apparently dismissed in an official Russian statement.

A translation of the document, posted on the website of Russian-state news agency RIA, said: "Commenting on the statement of the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov calling for the use of low-yield nuclear weapons in the framework of a special operation, Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of the president of the Russian Federation, said that all the grounds for the use of such weapons are set out in the relevant doctrine, there can be no other considerations.

"'We use nuclear weapons on the basis of what is stated in the relevant doctrine, there can be no other considerations here,' Peskov told reporters in response to a request to comment on Kadyrov's statements regarding the use of nuclear weapons as part of a special operation in Ukraine.'"

The Warsaw Institute, a Polish-based geopolitical think tank that focuses on international relations and defense, published an online account of the conflicting forces either pushing for, or pulling away from, the use of nuclear weapons during the conflict.

A report published on its website on Friday, sets out what the Russian nuclear doctrine—subsequently referred to by Peskov—actually entails.

The piece reads: "According to an updated Russian nuclear doctrine, nuclear weapons could be used by Russia in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the Russian Federation is at risk.

"But Ukraine's defensive campaign is unlikely to pose a threat to Russia. In addition, Ukraine has targeted Russian military facilities in Crimea for two months; Moscow unlawfully annexed the peninsula back in 2014. So why would grabbing new territories provoke a nuclear strike only now?"

However, the think tank also pointed out that mere threats of unleashing nuclear weapons may have resulted in a "partial success" for Putin. The E.U. Foreign Policy chief, Josep Borrell, insisted such threats must be taken "seriously" by the bloc, while U.S. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have both previously warned Russia of catastrophic consequences if it resorts to nuclear weapons in Ukraine, suggesting they took such threats at face value.

The specter of nuclear weapons was raised most recently by the Chechen leader after Russia last week admitted its troops had been forced to flee annexed Lyman, as Ukrainian soldiers raised their national flag once more over the city.

Kyiv claimed it had surrounded up to 5,000 of Putin's troops in the area, which is important strategically, with the Russian Defense Ministry later confirming that it had "retreated to more advantageous lines," according to the Russian-state news agency RIA.

Ukraine troops in Kramatorsk
Ukrainian troops continue their advance in an armored personnel carrier (APC) in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, on Sunday, October 2, 2022. Getty Images

The news sparked fury among Russian pro-war camps and culminated with Kadyrov demanding that "low-yield nuclear weapons" be used to regain control of Russia's faltering invasion. He has even vowed to send his three teenage sons, one of whom is just 14, to fight in Ukraine.

Russia, which maintains the conflict is not a war but a "special military operation," has not managed the swift invasion it had envisaged at the beginning of the year. Ukraine's tactics have seen it winning a "war of attrition," according to experts, while it has been boosted with sophisticated weapons and aid from the U.S. and other Western nations.

On Sunday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia's Kherson Front faced collapse as Ukraine had recaptured a series of towns.

The news sparked horror on Russian-state TV, with hosts asking: "We are retreating–what's happening?"

Newsweek has reached out to Russia's Foreign Ministry and Ukraine's Ministry of Defense for comment.