Putin Prepared to Use Nuclear Weapons—Khrushchev's Great-granddaughter

Nina Khrushcheva, the great-granddaughter of the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, has warned that Russia may be prepared to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Khrushcheva, a professor of International Affairs at The New School in New York City, said she fears Russian President Vladimir Putin may eventually deploy tactical nuclear weapons to claim victory in Ukraine.

"Since there are questions about how far Russia can go to create victory, and nuclear weapons have been part of the conversation on both sides, Russian and the West, the tactical atomic option is potentially imaginable," she told Newsweek, adding that her remarks are "not a prediction."

I "want to be very clear," she added. "Not saying it will happen, but as far as scenarios go, not inconceivable though not the most likely."

She earlier told the BBC that "this war is really the one that Putin plans to win, and plans to win at any cost.

"That is suggesting if he needs to declare victory and he may need to use tactical nuclear weapons—I'm not predicting that—but that could be one of the options that the Russians may be prepared to use."

President Vladimir Putin visits the Vostochny cosmodrome
Russia's President Vladimir Putin visits the Vostochny cosmodrome, some 180 km north of Blagoveschensk, Amur region, on April 12, 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Shortly before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Putin warned Western countries to stay out of the conflict and said he was putting his nuclear forces on heightened alert. Any country that interfered would face consequences "that you have never experienced in your history," he said.

More recently, Russian leaders have listed justifications for Moscow to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president who now serves as deputy chairman of Russia's security council, last month listed multiple ways Russia could be "entitled to" use its nuclear arsenal—even against nations that are only using conventional weapons.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later clarified that Russia is not considering turning to nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine. "No one is thinking about [...] using a nuclear weapon," he told PBS, adding that the conflict has "nothing to do with" any threat to Russia's existence.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said Russia is not considering using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. Lavrov said his country's forces would use "conventional weapons only" in an interview with India Today, according to state news agency Interfax.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he believes the world should be prepared for Russia to possibly resort to using chemical or nuclear weapons.

"Chemical weapons, they should do it, they could do it, for them the life of the people, nothing. That's why," Zelensky told CNN in an interview. "We should think not be afraid, not be afraid, but be ready. But that is not a question for Ukraine, not only for Ukraine, but for all the world, I think."

Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns has said that "potential desperation" could prompt Putin to use a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

On Thursday, Burns said the U.S. remains "very concerned" about the possibility that nuclear weapons could be used, but said he had not seen evidence showing such an attack was imminent.

"Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they've faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons," Burns said, according to the New York Times. "We don't."

Update 4/17/22, 8:25 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional comment from Nina Khrushcheva.

Update 4/19/22, 10:35 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional background information.