Russia Could Use Nuclear Weapons in These Situations, According to Doctrine

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is now a little more than a month old and given Russia's military capability, some are wondering whether the country would ever deploy nuclear weapons.

Recently, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated, in an interview with PBS, that the country is not currently considering nuclear warheads and would only do so following a "threat for existence." However, a document from the Russian Federation in June 2, 2020, lays out the instances in which the country would consider the use of nuclear weapons.

The document from the Russian government titled "Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence" begins by stating that "state policy in the field of nuclear deterrence shall be defensive in nature, aimed at maintaining the potential of nuclear forces at a level sufficient to ensure nuclear deterrence, and guarantee the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state."

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Russia doctrine outlines the four reasons Russia might use nuclear weapons. Above, a Russian nuclear missile rolls along Red Square during the military parade marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi defeat, on June 24, 2020, in Moscow, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia's document says its nuclear doctrine is also for "deterring a potential adversary from aggression against the Russian Federation and (or) its allies, and in the event of military conflict- preventing the escalation of hostilities and their cessation on acceptable grounds for the Russian Federation and/or its allies' conditions."

It goes on to say that Russia will only use nuclear weapons as a "deterrence" and says "the use of which is an extreme and forced measure" and only happens after the country "takes all necessary efforts to reduce the nuclear threat and prevent the aggravation of interstate relations that could provoke military conflicts, including nuclear ones."

Then the document goes on to state the four specific instances in which the Russian Federation, referred to as "threats of aggression," may use nuclear weapons:

a) the receipt of reliable information about the launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and (or) its allies;

b) the use by the adversary of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction across the territories of the Russian Federation and (or) its allies;

c) the enemy's influence on critical state or military facilities of the Russian Federation, the failure of which will lead to the disruption of the retaliatory action of nuclear forces;

d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is jeopardized.

It also says that the decision to use Russia's nuclear arsenal rests with the president of the Russian Federation and that their president "shall exercise overall control over the State policy in the field of nuclear deterrence."

On Saturday, Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and the country's current deputy chairman of the country's security council, talked about the aforementioned four scenarios in which the country would be "entitled" to use nuclear weapons.

He then said that there should be no doubt that Russia would be "ready to give a worthy response to any infringement on our country, or on its independence."

And just the day before, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that maintaining "readiness of strategic nuclear forces" remains a priority for Moscow, according to The Guardian.

Peter Jenkins, Chairman of British Pugwash, surmised "At this point the risk seems low that the situation will produce occurrences that accord with the conditions set out in [the doctrine]. There has been no indication from any authoritative governmental or military source that either NATO or Ukraine intends to launch ballistic missiles towards or across Russian territory or to cripple critical Russian state or military facilities or to put in jeopardy the very existence of the Russian state.

"However, the possibility must be entertained that Russia's leadership will choose to interpret certain occurrences as falling within the parameters of the 2020 doctrinal statement; and it cannot be excluded that Russia's leadership will take decisions that do not accord with the 2020 doctrine."

And in a speech in Poland over the weekend, United States President Joe Biden, in a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said, "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power." However, after Biden made the statement, the White House clarified the comment quickly saying that he was not calling for regime change in the country.

When asked about his comments during a press briefing Monday, Biden said the statement reflects a personal belief and was not a signal of a change in policy.

Vladimir Putin
A photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia on March 18, 2022. A 2020 document from the Russian government lays out the instances in which nuclear weapons could be used. (Photo by Getty Images) Getty Images