Leaked Military Files Show Russia's Nuclear Strike Threshold Lower Than Previously Known

This week the Financial Times has published contents of a cache of leaked classified Russian documents said to lay out the country's doctrine and strategy for tactical nuclear weapons use. Included in the documents is info on the Kremlin's minimum criteria for using tactical nukes.

The criteria outlined in the secret files range "from an enemy incursion on Russian territory to more specific triggers, such as the destruction of 20% of Russia's strategic ballistic missile submarines," according to FT.

leaked military files show russias nuclear strike threshold lower than previously known
Images: Getty & Wikimedia 

The question of the possibility of Russia and NATO stumbling toward nuclear war is without doubt heavy on the minds of many this week, especially after French President Emmanuel Macron's Monday comments wherein he raised sending Western troops to fight Russia in Ukraine and said of the possibility, "nothing should be ruled out."

Putin appeared to respond directly in his Thursday state of the nation televised address, spelling out: "Everything that they are coming up with now, with which they threaten the entire world – all this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, and therefore the destruction of civilization – don’t they understand this, or what?"

"They must ultimately understand that we also have weapons – and they know about it, just as I now said  – we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory," he warned.

As for tactical nuke usage, Russia's tactical arsenal has more limited range in comparison to strategic weapons, and thus are designed and intended for the possibility of a 'nearer' war in Europe or Asia. 

But worrisomely, the FT review of the documents (which date from 2008-2014) finds that the Kremlin likely has a threshold "lower than Russia has ever publicly admitted, according to experts who reviewed and verified the documents." Experts cited in the FT say the contents of the leaks likely remain part of Moscow's current nuclear doctrine.

The documents show that Russia has recently rehearsed scenarios involving war with China. Per the leaks and the FT report:

One exercise outlining a hypothetical attack by China notes that Russia, dubbed the “Northern Federation” for the purpose of the war game, could respond with a tactical nuclear strike in order to stop “the South” from advancing with a second wave of invading forces.

“The order has been given by the commander-in-chief . . . to use nuclear weapons . . . in the event the enemy deploys second-echelon units and the South threatens to attack further in the direction of the main strike,” the document said.

And for another scenario involving a hypothetical enemy invasion of Russian territory: 

A separate training presentation for naval officers, unrelated to the China war games, outlines broader criteria for a potential nuclear strike, including an enemy landing on Russian territory, the defeat of units responsible for securing border areas, or an imminent enemy attack using conventional weapons.

The slides summarise the threshold as a combination of factors where losses suffered by Russian forces “would irrevocably lead to their failure to stop major enemy aggression”, a “critical situation for the state security of Russia”.

Another envisioned situation seems to apply more for something like a Ukraine escalation scenario where there's runaway escalation. According to the FT's analysis and citations of the documents:

Other potential conditions include the destruction of 20 per cent of Russia’s strategic ballistic missile submarines, 30 per cent of its nuclear-powered attack submarines, three or more cruisers, three airfields, or a simultaneous hit on main and reserve coastal command centres.

Russia’s military is also expected to be able to use tactical nuclear weapons for a broad array of goals, including “containing states from using aggression […] or escalating military conflicts”, “stopping aggression”, preventing Russian forces from losing battles or territory, and making Russia’s navy “more effective”.

The particular above section has language in it which seems to lay out the most minimal threshold, but which perhaps leaves open the most interpretation for Russian leadership. Publicly at least, Kremlin leadership has said nuclear weapons could only be deployed if Russian territory and population face existential threat.

Putin in his aforementioned Thursday major address seemed to appeal in his nuclear warning given to NATO to this doctrine of "containing states from using aggression" - given that's precisely what he's now accusing the West of in Ukraine.

Authored by Tyler Durden via ZeroHedge February 29th 2024