Russia doubles its threat to change its nuclear doctrine

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine due to “unacceptable and escalatory actions” of the West.

Ryabkov’s warnings come days after President Vladimir Putin told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that his country’s nuclear doctrine is a “living instrument” that can be changed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, June 7, 2024. Moscow appears to be doubling down on its nuclear threats.



The warnings come amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over Putin’s ongoing war in neighboring Ukraine.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine sets out the conditions under which it may use such weapons. Putin said Moscow could justify using nuclear weapons if another nation used them against Russia or if “the very existence of the state was threatened.”

What we know

The deputy foreign minister did not explain what specific changes could be made, but said that recent actions by the U.S. and Ukraine’s other NATO allies have forced Moscow to rethink this decision.

“The challenges that are multiplying as a result of the unacceptable and escalatory actions of the United States and its NATO allies undoubtedly pose before us the full question of how the core documents in the field of nuclear deterrence can be better used to meet current needs,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russia state news agency Interfax.

His comments come as Moscow’s relations with Washington reach a new low amid reports of Ukraine using American-supplied weapons against Russian territory.

Facing increasing pressure from Ukraine and its NATO allies, on May 30, the United States gave Ukraine permission to use some American-supplied weapons to attack limited targets in Russia.

Kiev may use some weapons against Russian territory bordering northeastern Ukraine to defend its Kharkiv region, but the use of long-range missiles such as ATACMS is still prohibited, a U.S. official said Newsweek.

In response, Putin warned that he might arm Western adversaries with long-range missiles.

“If someone believes that it is possible to deliver such weapons to a war zone to attack our territory and create problems for us, why do we not have the right to supply weapons of the same class to regions of the world where strikes will take place on sensitive objects of these countries?” Putin told reporters on Wednesday.

“This means that the reaction may be asymmetric. We will think about it,” he added.

Putin has assured since September 2022 that Russia will be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend its “territorial integrity.”


The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based think tank, said last week that Putin’s comments on Russian nuclear doctrine suggest that Ukraine using Western weapons to attack targets on Russian territory does not cross Russia’s “red line.”

“Putin stated that the Russian nuclear doctrine calls on Russia to use nuclear weapons only in ‘exceptional cases’ of threats to Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” ISW reports.

The advisory panel continued: “Putin said he believed there was no such ‘exceptional’ case, so there was ‘no need’ for Russia to use nuclear weapons.”

ISW noted that the Ukrainian military reportedly recently attacked targets in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, using U.S.-supplied weapons.

“Putin’s June 7 statement represents a significant rhetorical shift, given that Putin and other Kremlin officials had previously threatened to use Russian nuclear weapons if Western countries allowed Ukraine to strike Russian territory with Western-supplied weapons,” ISW said.

“Many of Russia’s ‘red lines’ are likely information operations intended to force the West into self-deterrence,” the think tank added.

What’s next?

Putin said at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg that Russia “is closely monitoring what is happening in the world around us and does not rule out introducing some changes to this doctrine.”

“It also has to do with testing nuclear weapons,” he added.

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