Russia Says They Will Use Nuclear Weapons on These Conditions

The conditions for a potential nuclear strike by Russia are written in the country's military doctrine, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Russia's state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

Grushko had responded to a question about the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons against its enemies by saying that the answer was written "in black and white."

"We have a military doctrine, everything is written there. It does not give any other interpretation, except for what is there in black and white," he said.

Under Russia's official military deployment principles, the country is allowed to use nuclear weapons when Russia's enemies are using nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction on Russian territories and/or its allies; if Russia receives reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking its territory or that of Russian allies; if Russia's critical government or military sites are attacked by the enemy in a way that would undermine nuclear forces response actions; or if the country faces an existential threat through the use of conventional weapons.

Russia nuclear Ukraine
Russia said the conditions for a nuclear strike are written in the country's military doctrine. Above, a Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty Images

The decree signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 2, 2020—a six-page document titled Basic Principles of the Russian Federation's State Policy in the Domain of Nuclear Deterrence—says that nuclear weapons are seen by Russia "exclusively as a means of deterrence," Reuters reported.

Under the Basic Principles, Russia established that the use of nuclear weapons is "an extreme and compelled measure," which the country "takes all necessary efforts" to avoid.

One of the four conditions defined within Russia's military doctrine allowing the use of nuclear weapons by Moscow is dangerously close to the phrasing Putin has previously used to describe the hostility of the West towards Russia.

In an address to the nation on February 24, the day the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Putin talked of the "fundamental threats which irresponsible Western politicians created for Russia consistently, rudely and unceremoniously from year to year" by expanding NATO closer to the Russian borders.

The Russian president said the expansion of NATO was "a matter of life and death" for Russia, "a matter of our historical future as a nation." He called it, specifically, a "not only a real threat to our interests but to the very existence of our state and to its sovereignty."

If that is the "red line" for unleashing a nuclear strike stated by Russia's military doctrine, Putin has already claimed the U.S. and its NATO allies have crossed it. The decision to launch a nuclear attack is ultimately in his power.

Update 05/10/22, 8 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information and context.