Putin Testing 'Nuclear Blackmail' Tactic in Ukraine War: Ex-Russia Official

Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev on Monday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using "nuclear blackmail" in the Ukraine war. In a series of tweets, Kozyrev also warned the risk of World War III will increase if opposing forces "blink" on Putin's threats.

Kozyrev served as foreign minister for Russia under former President Boris Yeltsin, and he's since become a prominent critic of Putin. He has been especially outspoken against the war in Ukraine, which he called a "barbaric act" on the part of Putin in a March 4 interview with CNN.

On February 27, Putin ordered the Russian military to place their nuclear forces into a "special service regime," an elevated alert that is the second of four levels and one that hasn't been used in almost 40 years. On Twitter Monday, Kozyrev explained why he feels Putin would hint at the threat of using nuclear weapons.

"For Putin and his team of ex-KGB officers, the Cold War never ended," Kozyrev wrote. "The collapse of the USSR was just one lost battle in an ongoing contest."

Former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev
Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said on Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using "nuclear blackmail." In this photo, Kozyrev speaks with journalists in the west driveway of the White House, Washington DC, September 29, 1993. Getty

Kozyrev began the Monday Twitter thread by writing, "Last week, I read critiques of my position on Putin's rationality and possibility of nuclear war. Many are not realist enough about the nuclear threat or the right response."

"Nuclear deterrence is based on the belief that any attack with nuclear weapons will immediately trigger a mirror response in kind. For more than 70 years, this conviction—the balance of fear—was shared by nuclear powers and kept WWIII away," he continued.

Kozyrev then referenced Putin ordering nuclear forces be put on high alert, calling the move "a suicidal act given the policy of mutually assured destruction."

The former diplomat stated he did not believe Putin really wanted to use nuclear weapons, but he "is smart enough to threaten to do it." Kozyrev likened this to when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did the same during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. However, it was then-President John F. Kennedy's brinksmanship that averted a potential World War III, Kozyrev wrote.

Kozyrev noted that Ronald Reagan responded similarly during his presidency in the 1980s when the Soviet Union deployed nuclear missiles in West Germany.

Now, Putin is utilizing the same strategy, Kozyrev said. He tweeted, "Putin doesn't like to be on the back foot, so now they're checking if the threat of nuclear war is effective."

"The West willingly provided evidence of its effectiveness. The shameful game of hot potato around Polish MiGs started after Putin's nuclear threat," he wrote. "Now the Kremlin wants to see what else they can stop with nuclear blackmail: they called Western arms convoys 'legitimate targets.'"

He continued, "Putin declared that the economic sanctions were "an act of war." Can he force the West to ease sanctions with the specter of nuclear war? I don't see why he wouldn't try."

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