by David Sant for the Saker blog
On Tuesday, February 21st President Putin gave a speech that was expected to be very significant. After it was delivered, however, most pundits said he didn’t say anything we didn’t already know. Most of them focused on his announcement of the withdrawal from the START II treaty. However, he said something far more significant.
An Existential Threat
What Mr. Putin said, when read through the lens of international law, should be chilling to the West.
We would do well to remember that Mr. Putin majored in international law. His speech made a legal case against NATO.
First he listed, by my count, 30 different ways in which the Western nations have attacked Russia. These included the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders, support of terrorists in Russia, economic war, terrorist sabotage of the Nordstream Pipeline, financing of the coup and war in Ukraine, directly assisting Ukraine to attack targets in Russia including Russia’s nuclear bombers, and plotting to destroy and partition Russia into pieces.
Nestled in the middle of these was an important statement.
“This means they plan to finish us once and for all. In other words, they plan to grow a local conflict into a global confrontation. This is how we understand it and we will respond accordingly, because this represents an existential threat to our country.”
Putin’s choice of words is extremely significant in light of Russian nuclear doctrine, which states that nuclear weapons could be used by Russia “in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened.”
Among the 30 points of evidence of the American war on Russia, Mr. Putin listed several cases of American use of conventional weapons against Russian territory through Ukraine as the thinly veiled proxy, and stated that this represents an “existential threat to [the Russian State].”
What Mr. Putin has just told us is that the Kremlin now considers nuclear use condition #2 to be true, today.
This statement was accompanied by two related actions. The day before the speech Russia tested a Sarmat II ICBM. And at the end of the speech, Mr. Putin announced that Russia shall immediately withdraw from the START II treaty, which limits the number and range of their nuclear missiles.
These three statements and events together should tell the collective West that Russia has just said “Get off my porch!”, and cocked the forty-five.
This doesn’t mean that Russia is going to strike the USA tomorrow morning. But, we are definitely now teetering on the cliff’s edge of nuclear war.
Nuclear Offense and Defense
Mr. Putin has previously said that nobody can win a nuclear war, and it is a war that should never be fought. However, behind the scenes Russia had been furiously preparing to survive just such a war, which they hope to avoid.
Russia has developed and deployed the S-500 and S-550 air defenses which are primarily designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles in space before they can release their multiple warheads upon re-entry. Each S-500 battery is capable of simultaneously tracking and destroying 10 ICBMs in the early to mid flight stages.
The S-300 and S-400 batteries armed with the new 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 anti-ballistic missiles are also capable of shooting down ICBM warheads after re-entry at shorter ranges than the S-500.
These systems create an onion of defensive rings around key Russian cities and military bases. In the event of a nuclear exchange the S-500 would target the incoming ICBMs while still in space at a range of 600 kilometers, and outside the borders of Russia; and the S-400 and S-300 batteries would target any deployed warheads that managed to get through. Obviously, preventing as many enemy missiles as possible from being launched would improve the chances of successful defense.
The S-500 was deployed in 2021 to protect Moscow and went into mass production in 2022. So it is very possible that Russia has quietly installed a comprehensive missile defense shield. However, we don’t have enough information to know whether it could be perfectly effective against hundreds of ICBMs at once. Given the maximum launch of 640 ICBMs by NATO, a total of sixty-four S-500 batteries would be required in order to intercept them all.
Due to missile reduction treaties since 1990, NATO’s nuclear triad consists of about 400 Minuteman III ICBMs, 240 submarine-launched Trident II ICBM’s, plus a few hundred B61 nuclear bombs carried by the sixty B1 and B2 heavy bombers in NATO’s air force.
If Russia’s ICBM defenses could take out 90% of 640 incoming missiles, it could survive a nuclear exchange at the cost of absorbing hits from about 50 warheads that got through. Given the smaller modern warheads in NATO’s missile forces, it would do terrible but localized damage. Moscow would probably experience massive damage, but the rest of Russian territory would be fine.
NATO’s nuclear offense forces rely on aging Trident II and Minuteman III ICBMs. The majority of these systems are over thirty years old. This means they will probably have a significant failure rate just to launch. Russia’s modern air defenses and ECM have been designed to defeat these old technologies.
In balance to the effort to perfect defenses against ICBMs, Mr. Putin announced that Russia’s nuclear forces have been 91% modernized. That means that the ICBMs that Russia would fire all have maneuverable hypersonic warheads. US air defenses are currently unable to defend against these.
The spacing of American Minuteman silos was designed for the majority to survive a first strike and launch retaliation. However, Russian maneuverable hypersonic multiple re-entry vehicles nullify this defense if the targeting data is accurate. Russia has to accurately hit 400 ground targets in the first strike to nullify a response.
Thus, if Russia strikes first, it may be able to eliminate the majority of incoming missiles by destroying them on the ground. The 240 submarine launched Trident missiles would be the primary threat to defend against. Thus a first strike could reduce the number of expected retaliation missiles by 62%.
NATO’s aging heavy bomber fleet is unlikely to be able to penetrate Russian air defenses. While these bombers were constantly kept in the air at the peak of the cold war, that is no longer the case.
A first strike would make it unlikely that the bombers and refuelers could get off the ground in time to effectively respond.
Russia currently has a window of superiority in both nuclear offense and defense that NATO is rapidly trying to close. It is not in Russia’s interest to allow NATO to close the technology gap in air defense and ICBM offense.
The world is now on the threshold of nuclear war. Russia keeps warning the West. The West keeps ignoring the warnings and doubling down. The immovable object is meeting the unstoppable force.
Three important things have changed since the Cold War which have changed the probability of a nuclear exchange.
- Nuclear proliferation means that MAD can be bypassed if the identity of the first attacker is uncertain to the target. A missile that appears from an unexpected direction may not have been launched by the most obvious suspect.
- MAD depends on both parties being rational actors. The West ceased to be rational when they destroyed Nordstream.
- Russia may now have an effective missile defense shield, while NATO does not.
The Russian Method Projected Forward
Just as in December 2021 when Russia asked NATO for security guarantees, Russia follows the letter of the law and procedure. They gave NATO the opportunity to back down or negotiate. When they were rebuffed, Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine, about 70 days after the initial demand for negotiation with NATO.
Following the same method, in 2023, Russia has just made the legal case that the USA and NATO are at war with Russia and pose an existential threat to Russia’s existence.
It seems likely to me that in the coming weeks Russia’s ally, China, will offer a peace deal which freezes the Ukraine conflict within the current lines of contact, i.e. Ukraine conceding lost territory to Russia.
If the West rejects the offered peace, which seems fairly likely, then all of the conditions for a nuclear war will be in place. All it will take is a new provocation by NATO to trigger a first strike by Russia. Or worse, if both parties realize this is the case, both will have the incentive to strike first.
In the next 360 days we are in greater danger of a nuclear exchange between Russia and NATO than we have ever before seen. There is a 60 to 90 day window remaining for this outcome to be avoided. Let us pray that God will turn the hearts of the Western leaders away from the suicidal folly they have embraced.
“In the next 360 days we are in greater danger of a nuclear exchange between Russia and NATO than we have ever before seen. There is a 60 to 90 day window remaining for this outcome to be avoided. Let us pray that God will turn the hearts of the Western leaders away from the suicidal folly they have embraced.”
Yeah get your PipBoys ready guys. because as long as the General Staff of NATO don’t put a Bullet through the Heads of the “Crazys in the Basement” they will NOT back down. Those idiots are outright psychopaths and Moscow didn’t seem to understand that.
Yeah, that’s about right.
Agreed. Once the psychopaths in DC got ahold of the bomb, we were always destined to arrive at this day. And if it doesn’t happen now over this conflict, it will happen soon over another. Might just as well get on with things. I’m afraid that the most rational and only winning response for Russia and the rest of the world at this point is an all out first strike to eliminate the threat. Probably should have happened earlier.
Putin has said in the past that if a fight is inevitable, hit first. I don’t think he was kidding.
Also, such a strike no longer has to be an attempt to blanket the US with nukes to take out not only Minuteman sites but command and control centres. At one time about the only option anyone had to attack C&C on US homeland, due to range and accuracy limitations, was to destroy them with nukes. That has changed dramatically on the Russian side as they have long-range hypersonic missiles with pinpoint accuracy that can selectively take out C&C quickly and accurately – think Pentagon, major nuclear submarine home ports, major airbases, Langely, and other such installations – perhaps even Wall Street and the City of London, the true nests of the Beast.
If Russia had the capability — ok, let’s say they do have the capability — to take out all those things you listed (and the ‘true nests of the beasts’), then why haven’t they done so in Ukraine?
Putin and the Russian General Staff are measured, logical, rational, sane, moral players. Unfortunately, they have consistently and mistakenly assumed the West is the same. It is not. Russia has avoided an all out war for Ukraine because (1) that was always beyond the original scope, reasons and justifications for war (remember, Dear West, please just honor Minsk and stop bombing Donbass), (2) War is expensive in terns of cost, personnel and impact on the nation; and (3) war is not always predictable and can lead to numerous unforeseen consequences (in 1914, did the Kaiser think he would lose, did Austria Hungry think it would cease to exist)
In all honesty, the above approach was a mistake. The West only responds to force. Russia should have slapped down the little bitches Hard and Fast. It should have carpet bombed Ukrainian defensive positions remember Rumsfeld’s “Shock and Awe), decapitated Kyiv, rushed to the Polish and Romanian borders, and dared NATO to enter Ukraine. The cost in loss of civilian lives and infrastructure to Ukraine would have been enormous. The cost of lives to Russia would have been minimal. The cost in international status and reputation to Russia would have been huge and tragic. Further, if that doctrine had been followed, Russia would be preparing for 100 years of conflict.
Damned if you do; damned if you don’t
They have been doing just that for the past year – power stations, airfields, military C&C, radar installations, anti-missile systems, etc. Where have you been?
Freezing the US war in Ukraine is not good enough. Russia will take the Black Sea coast. And the Ukraine has not yet been “de-nazified”. The question is how to cause maximum pain to the USUKisrael pirates.
Agreed. Freezing things at this point would only prolong the agony. DC feels their hegemony slipping away and is desperate for showdown, so a showdown they soon shall have.
Not sure if this is what Putin et al are actually thinking.
Their go slow approach to the SMO has allowed NATO to slowly ratchet up the escalation.
They have all become convinced that Russian reticence is in fact weakness and ineffectiveness.
That has slowly but surely increased the odds of direct engagement and nato nukes.
And this in turn, according to the logic laid out here, has increased the odds of a Russian preemptive geostrategic strike.
But how many times have we heard this before, and it never happens.
I don’t think anyone knows where this is going to land internationally, but domestically things are of the nuclear equivalent like running out of water out west in very short order, and no hail mary’s waiting in the wings so far.
He’ll let us know when we get there in 8 weeks.
Then again, you’ll only “hear about it” once, if that. Most places will likely get no warning at all, just a blinding light and then nothing.
Except we’ve heard nothing but that since the quick invasion failed last year, and a score of times since then the trigger has not been pulled.
Only talked up in tight western circles, and every time Putin responds that only if actually threatened by nukes, will they defensively pull the trigger.
Which leads to another western belief of Russia pulling the trigger. There are plenty of triggers, and nuclear is not one of them for either side.
Running out of nuclear fuel to power your generators, now there is your political nuclear bomb trigger.
Something I should have said in the article was that just because the Kremlin views nuclear use condition #2 to be true, doesn’t mean that nuclear weapons are the only choice of how to deal with such an existential threat. A nuclear strike will obviously only be used as the very last resort.
But with DC Warhawks like Lindsey Graham calling for a “decapitation attack” on the Kremlin, anything could happen.
I believe that nuclear weapons are essentially obsolete technology for the Russian Federation. The origional conventional weapons were rather inaccurate, and the idea of the nuclear bomb was that it was so powerful that it could destroy mission critical objectives even without high targetting accuracy. With the advent of high precision guided missiles – especially hypersonic ones such as Avangard, Kinzhal and Zircon – such a powerful blast is no longer required. Kinzhal has even proved itself capable of destroying targets that were supposed to be protected from nuclear weapons, such as bunkers deep underground.
Personally I believe it is very possible that Russia may conduct a first strike against the US – but on the contrary I believe it is absolutely inconceiveable that such a first strike would be nuclear. (a) It is entirely unnecessary, from Russia’s point of view, to use nuclear; (b) it would be morally incompatible with Russia’s principles to make a nuclear first strike when they are winning conventionally on the battlefield; and (c) using nuclear on a large scale would cause a nuclear winter. (I think the only exception they would contemplate might be an EMP blast in the upper atmosphere).
I also believe that one critical factor that would determine whether a conventional first strike against the US would be an acceptable risk to Russia would be their technology for tracking US nuclear submarines – whether they know where they all are at any given moment – that is obviously top secret and unknown to us. If they do, I think they would be ready to do a first strike; if not, I suspect Putin would regard it as an unacceptable risk under all but extreme circumstances (which we have certainly not reached yet).
I think that Russia is preparing it’s nuclear response and letting the west know they will come second in a nuclear exchange. I agree that Russia is most unlikely to initiate a first strike but have a horrifying response to the west if they should make that mistake. Russia can respond to western agression by directly targeting their military capabilities on their soil with conventional ordinance. If they do this they could also target the top decision makers of this conflict, the Zionist Bankers, with special teams and conventional munitions. At this juncture the west could decide if it wished to be vaporized if it resorts to nuclear weapon retaliation. The whole situation is very fluid and dynamic, I don’t see how anyone can reasonably assess how it will play out. I’m glad at least the Russians are the smart and sane players, if both sides were like the west, many of us would be dead already.
Those idiots in charge in Washington still think that the Atlantic ocean protects them for their many enemies. They don’t believe that Russia’s many powerful weapons even exist. Just consider the Sarmat, which is now deployed. It has unlimited range and is unstoppable. No imaginary missile shield can save their asses.
Yet they, the neocons in Washington, keep sending more and more powerful arms to the Zelenskii regime. They are willing to risk a World war III that they would lose. The US and Western Europe would be devastated.
Anyway to forward this article to youtube or twitter? It is an important article and needs wider audience.
Get it over with. Russia must not wait for the uS to strike first. They must be disuaded by a forceful action.
First, congratulations on noticing what most seem to have missed; yes, Putin very precisely let everybody know that the conditions for the use of nuclear weapons have been met according to the Russian nuclear doctrine.
Second, the fact that 91% of the nuclear arsenal is “modernised” doesn’t mean it uses maneuverable hypersonic warheads; it only means that the old Soviet weapons have been replaced by the newer designs. Only Sarmat carries the Avangard delivery vehicles, and only a few of those have been deployed, that I know of. In most of the old Voevoda silos the Yars carriers have been placed because the old rockets had to be replaced, probably because they are defunct, and Sarmat was not yet available. However, it should be duly noted that all American deployed weapons are in such condition that the Russians would’ve been in great hurry to replace them immediately because of reliability concerns. This means that Russia has the greatest advantage in the condition of nuclear weapons it will probably ever have, which means it can probably win decisively if it does a first-strike.
As for the anti-rocket defenses, I agree that Russia has a very effective rocket shield, but it would probably work as well as the rocket shield around Donetsk city – basically, something will always get through.
As for the idea that something will prevent the nuclear exchange, I think this would have to be the hand of God, because my analysis since 2014 is that America actually wants a nuclear war, with the purpose of hiding their economic and societal collapse. All of their otherwise illogical moves thus become easy to understand.
I don’t, for some reason, think the nuclear exchange is going to be of the extreme kind. The very careful nature of Putin’s other moves indicates that he will try to warn and inflict limited blows if at all possible, and even if it harms Russia’s ability to win decisively. This indicates that he will try to de-fang NATO rather than do anything extreme. On the other hand, I am quite certain that we can expect several nuclear strikes in Europe, and God only knows what after that.
@ Danijel And BM
I concur with many of the things both of you add to this very important article .
The West has been planning for this War for many years ,If you look at history ww1 and ww2 they occur when
there are financial collapses this time it should of been 2008 but they kick the can down the road till now 2023
this will be the largest collapse in world history. the West has to have a War in order to cover it up and a
chance for world domination the East (Russia / China ) wants the financial collapse first to avert the Nuclear
War, if the Nuclear and non Nuclear missals start flying what should be the targets ?? ,there should be at least two ,
locations to eliminated all military weapons in the future and their ability to make them and the locations of people and families that have been behind this endever ,where are most of them ? lets not forget the ones that always get away Ie , Vatican ,Swisserland , UK,Kusa ,Canada and Israel and other fine places in Europe. who are running the central Banking world wide ,I hope if Putin wants world peace he will realizes That countries do not start Wars ,It is people and most of the time they do not live in the Warring countries. those countries are used as pawns.
When things get close ,There may be make a believe fires in St Petersbury and other locations to remove
the Art work to a safer place and maybe anther 40,ooo,ooo people emergency drill like the last one Russia had .
Good article. The one variable that was not considered is China. If Putin moves and China strikes Taiwan and the western US, it will be over very quickly and very devastating indeed. The US citizen allowed itself to be ruled by a corrupt political class that has destroyed the Republic.
I’m actually optimistic that a nuclear exchange will not take place. I believe the warrring parties are all quite content with continuing on and sustaining with the present muck. $$$$wise it is to the Western Elites advantage. Why change a $$$$ making scam, errr scheme. As for Russia things are moving well towards getting the once mighty $ trashed, and in the process they are stepping up a new world monetary system. So, they’ll all let the Ukraine sore fester. Sorry, Ukrainians you’ll just have to keep on suffering. grrrr.
Where are the 400 Minuteman III ICBM’s in NATO countries located? What website is the most reliable for finding out where bombers, ICBM’s and Poseidon missiles are located? Anybody know? Thanks.
OK, to answer my own question and come clean, my browser search results said that Israel, France and the UK were European-area countries w/ Minuteman III ICBM’s. But it doesn’t make sense, then, that Russia would strike these bases first, because the nuclear blowback/ cloud/ radiation would hurt Russia, like a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That was the point underlying the question.
The comments here advocating a Russian first strike are so weird and naive as to honestly only be understood as self destructively insane. I completely agree that Russia has behaved legitimately and even admirably in defending the people of the Donbass, reclaiming Crimea and stopping NATO’s advance. I agree that the ill-thought-out dream of the US is to seize control of, or at least seriously wound Russia, but they are far from success in either goal. And the truth remains that nuclear war is unwinnable no matter who strikes first. There are too many missiles, too many secret plans, too many things to go wrong.
The thing is that the US is talking this way of winnable nuclear wars, Nato is talking this way. So Russia has to consider whether is would be better off with a first strike and also declare that it has a better claim on that right than does the west. But it is madness, a choice between dying of cancer or tuberculosis. Better to pursue a decisive conventional military action directed toward US and NATO weapons and the Kiev government. Better to take out a major atlantic or pacific communication cable. May God have mercy on us all.
‘Existential threat’ includes the capability of destroying Russia, the expectation that it happen if the enemy is left unchecked, and that nuclear arms are the only way to check it. That’s not the case. There are many things Russia (along with it’s allies) can do to curtail US/Empire action, and much of that is already being done. Russia may be threatened, and it’s a very serious situation, but Russia is presently in no danger of being destroyed except by nuclear attack, which is unlikely now, and the likelyhood of Russian retaliation destroying the US remains a deterrent, if not perhaps to the crazies then at least to growing opposition to the war by normal political, military, and financial players in the empire.
A sudden nuclear attack on Russia by crazies has been possible for many decades, but mutally assured destruction is as operative, more so even, now as then, and Russia (and some nations) is more capable of retaliation than ever before, while the collapsing empire continues to weaken, and this is understood by many on both sides. The crazies are in charge only up to a point, and beyond that the results of the internecine struggle is quite uncertain. It is not even clear that the crazies would knowingly step over that line, or cliff, and how much of what they are saying, or even doing, is more than bluster and bluff.
Everybody can see we are staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. Problem is, the gun is in the hands of mad men. From a lot of the comments in this and other blogs, it seems that fewer people believe that average Americans support this nonsense – most of us do not! I write as a Vietnam era veteran, and I certainly do not support this confrontation. Looks like Putin is the only thing between us and the furnace. Our crazies need to change course. People of faith need to pray. Some thoughts here:
Russia is also far better off when it comes to hitting and destroying valuable western targets using her nukes. A very large number of western population centers/industrial basis are concentrated within massive almost uniformly connected megalopolises across Europe including London, Liverpool…Paris…etc. and across the USA NYC, Washington, LA, Houston….etc. Destruction of these major cities means the end of western civilization, in one go and within just a few minutes. The vast majority of people of Russia however would be saved by moving them out of the vastly outnumbered large population areas to villages and smaller towns until all the dusts settle. Plainly, the west is a very targets rich adversary while that is not necessarily the case with regards to Russia. Every Russian nuke hit will be the end of the targeted destination while this is not the case even if NATO forces manage to strike Russia for the duration of a tit for tat scenario.
The NEOCONS now control every Western Government through blackmail, extortion or bribery (think, Jeffrey Epstein, the Lolita express, and pedophile Island). They in turn are controlled by financial oligarchs but share the same insane messianic, religious zealotry. Therefore they are given directions and goals but are free to steer the ship. They are hell bent to create a one world government with Jerusalem as its capital. They are hell bent to build the third temple. They are indifferent to the misery and the destruction that would be associated with that project. They are arrogant enough and foolish enough to believe they will prevail.
The only way to prevent World War 3 is for the citizens of the Western Nations to rise up eliminate these parasites, and incarcerate their lackeys and toadies.
It would be bloody but taking out six million sure beats watching one billion being vaporized, five billion dying from fallout, and the remaining hordes killing each other over scraps.
Wow this is a really great thread of comments and somewhat very reassuring after reading the above rather ominous analysis. This is quite an interesting times to still be alive and witnessing.