Vladimir Putin may resort to using nuclear weapons in Ukraine if he becomes too desperate amid devastating war losses, a former US general has warned.
Retired US Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, who served as a Defense Attaché to Russia, said Putin must be thinking about doing something dramatic in the face of a rapid Ukrainian counter-attack that is continuing to gain ground today.
Large numbers of Russian troops have surrendered rather than fight Ukrainian troops advancing east out of Kharkiv, leading some to hope that a turning point in the war has finally been reached.
But the success of Ukraine’s counter-offensive could mean that Putin will launch a nuclear weapon, Ryan warned.
‘I have been thinking about the pressure Putin must be feeling to do something dramatic — which causes me to think again about nuclear triggers,’ Ryan told Insider.
Ryan’s stark warning comes after former NATO leader Rose Gottemoeller also voiced fears that the Russian leader is prepared to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to try and terrify Kyiv into capitulating.
Vladimir Putin may resort to using nuclear weapons in Ukraine if he becomes too desperate amid devastating war losses, a former US general has warned. Pictured: Sarmat missile test launch in April
Retired US Army Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, who served as a Defense Attaché to Russia, said Putin (pictured) must be thinking about doing something dramatic in the face of a rapid Ukrainian counter-attack that is continuing to gain ground today
Gottemoeller, who was deputy secretary general of the alliance from 2016 to 2019, said the Russians may ‘strike back in really unpredictable ways’ after Ukraine inflicted a humiliating rout on their forces in the north.
Ms Gottemoeller said those strikes could include firing a nuclear weapon into the Black Sea or at a Ukrainian military base as a demonstration of might.
‘The goal would be to get the Ukrainians, in their terror, to capitulate,’ she added.
Meanwhile, Ryan said that if the Russian authorities hold a sham referendum in the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk so that are illegally annexed, it would mean ‘the fighting that is currently going on in Ukraine will suddenly be ‘in Russia’.’
Ryan said that if the regions in eastern Ukraine are illegally annexed, like Russia did with Crimea, there would be immediate ramifications.
‘For one, Putin could solve his military manpower problem because now all the conscripts (35+% of the force) can be used — since it’s no longer a war abroad,’ he said.
‘A second development will be that the red lines against fighting on Russian territory will be suddenly crossed,’ he continued. ‘NATO weapons will be fighting and shooting inside Russia. And most importantly, the Russian state will be under direct attack. And as we know, that is a trigger for using nuclear weapons.’
Ryan added: ‘If we add the possibility that Russian forces might be losing hard won territory to Ukrainian forces at the same time, the pressure on Putin to do something dramatic will be enormous.’
But Ms Gottemoeller said Russia is unlikely to use long-range nuclear weapons against the US, but will hope to deter Ukraine’s western allies from supporting its war effort.
Rose Gottemoeller said Russia could ‘strike back in really unpredictable ways’ following its latest humiliation in the east of Ukraine, including using nuclear weapons
Quizzed on the BBC’s Today Programme about how the West should respond, she added: ‘I stress that if [the Russians] do go down that route then we should not respond in a nuclear way.
‘[We] should bring our other considerable capacities to bear, whether that be a cyber response or conventional [weapons] response.’
She also stressed that western military aid and training to Ukraine should continue, but that diplomatic channels should be kept open to the Kremlin.
Ukraine has been preparing for a nuclear disaster as its counter-offensive against Russia gathers pace
Asked what the West should be telling the Russian leader, she said: ‘ We’ve done an excellent job sending a clear message to Moscow of: No impunity.
‘We know what you’re up to, you’re not going to get away with it’
‘If there is a move towards weapons of mass destruction, and I have seen no indication so far that there is, but if there is then we need to get it out there and say to the Russians: ‘No impunity here’.’
Ms Gottemoeller was speaking after Ukraine launched a surprise counter-attack east out of the city of Kharkiv which led to a rout in Russian forces.
In the course of just a few days of fighting, and facing only token resistance, Ukrainian troops were able to drive Russia out of the entirety of the Kharkiv region.
Kyiv’s men are now in control of vital supply lines running into the eastern Donbas region, and are looking to press the advantage by attacking Russian positions there.
A second counter-attack towards the city of Kherson is also continuing to make progress, with some Russian troops said to be negotiating their surrender after running out of ammunition.
Oleksiy Arestovich, adviser to President Zelensky, said the military has captured so many Russians over recent days that it is running out of space to house them.
Military intelligence spokesman Andrey Yusov added that ‘significant’ numbers of Russian officers are among them.
Zelensky, speaking in a late-night address on Tuesday, said Ukraine’s armies had captured a total of 3,100 square miles in the northeast region of Kharkiv.
That is roughly the size of island of Crete, with Zelensky calling on Western allies to supply more weapons to help consolidate the gains.
Ukrainian soldiers pose for a photo in Izium, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Tuesday
A field is covered with craters left by the shelling close to Izium, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Ukrainian troops piled pressure on retreating Russian forces Tuesday, pressing deeper into occupied territory and sending more Kremlin troops fleeing ahead of the counteroffensive that has inflicted a stunning blow on Moscow’s military prestige
Ukraine and the West must ‘strengthen cooperation to defeat Russian terror’, he said, while calling specifically for air defence systems to help protect civilian areas that Putin’s commanders have begun targeting as ‘revenge’.
Zelensky described the strikes as ‘a sign of the desperation of those who invented this war.’
He added: ‘This is how they react to the defeat of Russian troops in the Kharkiv region. They can’t do anything to our heroes on the battlefield and that’s why Russia is directing its vile strikes against civilian infrastructure.’
Since Moscow abandoned its main bastion in the northeast on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a stunning shift in battleground momentum.
Speaking in the central square of Balakliia, a crucial military supply hub taken by Ukrainian forces late last week, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said 150,000 people had been liberated from Russian rule in the area.
‘The aim is to liberate the Kharkiv region and beyond – all the territories occupied by the Russian Federation,’ Malyar said on the road to Balakliia, which lies 46 miles southeast of Kharkiv.
Groups of Ukrainian soldiers smoked, grinned and chatted beside the road to Balakliia, which was littered with charred vehicles and destroyed military hardware.
With Ukraine’s flag flying in the city once again, people clamoured for supplies, and spoke of all they endured.
‘I was walking away… when I saw an armoured personnel carrier coming onto the square with a Ukrainian flag: my heart just tightened up and I began to sob,’ Mariya Tymofiyeva, a 43-year-old resident said, her voice trembling with emotion.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syehubov said authorities were trying to record crimes committed by Russians during their occupation of the area, and recover the bodies of victims.
‘We’re asking everyone around about all the places of burial which can be found,’ he said.
Meanwhile, repair crews have restored the two main power lines supplying Kharkiv city and its surrounds, power firm Ukrenergo said after Russian shelling caused blackouts.
Kyiv fears Moscow will step up attacks on its energy networks as winter approaches and is pleading for anti-aircraft technology from the West to protect infrastructure.
A Ukrainian serviceman stands on a destroyed Russian armed personnel carrier in Ukraine
Residential buildings partially destroyed by a Russian missile attack in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine on Tuesday
Russia has likely used Iranian-made uncrewed aerial vehicles in Ukraine for the first time, Britian’s defence intelligence said on Wednesday, after Kyiv reported downing one of the UAVs on Tuesday.
‘Russia is almost certainly increasingly sourcing weaponry from other heavily sanctioned states like Iran and North Korea as its own stocks dwindle,’ it said in a regular update.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Wednesday that Russian forces had launched three missile strikes, 33 air strikes and fired 58 rocket artillery strikes at military and civilian targets over the past 24 hours.
Russian forces still control about a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east, but Kyiv is now on the offensive in both areas.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych held out the prospects of moving on the eastern province of Luhansk, which together with Donetsk is known as the Donbas, a major industrial region close to the border with Russia.
‘There is now an assault on Lyman and there could be an advance on Siversk,’ Arestovych said in a video posted on YouTube. He predicted a fight for the town of Svatovo, where he said the Russians have storage depots.
‘And that is what they fear most – that we take Lyman and then advance on Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,’ he said, referring to the twin cities taken by Russia after fierce fighting in June and July.
On top of the setbacks in Ukraine, Russian authorities are also facing challenges in other former Soviet republics.
About 100 people have been killed this week in the deadliest fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia since a 2020 war, prompting Putin to appeal for calm.
On Wednesday, shooting broke out between guards patrolling the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Russian news agencies said, citing the Kyrgyz border service.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Anna Voitenko and Reuters bureaux; writing by Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Himani Sarkar)