WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- A Russian threat to use its nuclear military arsenal exemplifies how dependent the country is on its nuclear capability to advance its interests.
At a meeting in Germany with retired U.S. military and intelligence officials last month, Russian diplomats warned that any attempt to return Crimea, annexed in 2014 by Russia, to Ukraine would be met with force, and Russia has also prominently mentioned its store of nuclear weapons when discussing potential attacks on NATO forces over the Baltic States. A document drawn from notes taken at the Germany meeting said a NATO attempt to return Crimea would be regarded as an attack on Russia, and would "be responded to fully, including through the use of nuclear weapons. In this type of scenario, the United States should also understand it would also be at risk."
The Russian delegation to the meeting noted conditions in the Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania and Estonia, each a NATO member – are "the same conditions that existed in Ukraine and caused Russia to take action there."
The nuclear posturing by the Kremlin plays well to Russian population, many of whom recall the Soviet Union's days as a superpower. The Russian military is presently outclassed by NATO troops in Europe, with less manpower, inferior weapons and fewer allies; hence, a reliance on nuclear scaremongering.
Russia has also recently increased military reconnaissance flights and engaged in encounters with NATO ships and fighter planes. The Russian ambassador to Denmark, last month, threatened Denmark with a nuclear attack if it decides to support a European missile defense shield, and at a Russian youth camp last year, President Vladimir Putin boasted, "It is best not to mess with us when it comes to a possible armed conflict. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers."
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union's nuclear capability was acknowledged without the bluster and threats that now emerge from the Kremlin.
"It's not just a difference in rhetoric," said Bruce G. Blair, a Princeton University nuclear arms expert, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's a whole different world."
"The fact that this nuclear option was on the table for consideration is a very clear indication that there's a low nuclear threshold now that didn't exist during the Cold War."
Blair described Putin's actions as the riskiest since the Cuban missile crisis.