What a nuclear attack in Ukraine might look like – an expert

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BulgarianMilitary.com published Jan Kofron‘s interview for the Czech site lidovky.cz. Jan Kofron’s assessments, opinions and comments are his personal and do not necessarily reflect the position of of BulgarianMilitary.com.

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PRAGUE ($1=25.04 CZK) — For a tactical nuclear strike to make sense, the Russians would need to launch three to five of them. However, the risk of escalation would be high in such a case, says Jan Kofron, a security expert at Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic.

Photo credit: Sputnik

Q: How likely is Putin to use nuclear weapons?

There is a chance, but very small. Before the Russian mobilization, I estimated it at about 1.5 percent. I think it’s even smaller now. In addition, it is about potential use outside operational areas – for example, somewhere over the sea or in the stratosphere, as a demonstration strike. By calling up reservists for the Russians, the chance of them stabilizing the front increased, and, accordingly, the need to resort to such a radical step decreased. It’s certainly not a hard zero – and if anyone claims that, let them show me on what basis and prove their predictive abilities from the past.

No one should run to Chile right now though, the chance is still slim…

Q: And what about the use of smaller, so-called tactical nuclear weapons directly on the front lines?

Of course, a limited nuclear strike could be launched – ideally on some stationary target such as a bridge, logistics center, and the like. However, I think the probability of such an attack is even lower. The combat value of such a strike would be relatively small.

We have seen this, for example, in attacks using conventional HIMARS systems, where the payload is also not negligible. The Ukrainians have been attacking the Dnieper bridges around Kherson with them for the fourth or fifth week, but the desired effect has not yet been achieved. A broken bridge can always be repaired, and even a broken bridge doesn’t solve anything.

It would really take three four five of those tactical nukes. And there, of course, the risk of escalation increases significantly.

Q: What about attacking the advancing units?

Yes, but the force density in Ukraine is relatively very small. The tail is quite long, not a strip between the Baltics and the Alps like during the Cold War. Then the Soviet Union could rationally assume that if it attacked the advancing Allies with two or three nuclear strikes at the right time, it would knock out hundreds of tanks.

If the Russians now try to attack the area where they think the enemy is, they may knock out the Ukrainian company. The question then becomes whether it would even be worth it to them.

Q: How destructive is such a tactical nuclear weapon? Should we imagine a new Hiroshima or rather a slightly more destructive conventional weapon?

It really depends on the species. The destructiveness of nuclear weapons varies from one to one hundred kilotons of TNT. What the Allies dropped on Hiroshima had a destructive force of approximately ten kilotons. The cumulative effect of the larger Allied offensives in 1943 is also estimated.

However, the Russians have artillery shells whose destructive power is somewhere around one kiloton of TNT. Such munitions destroy people within a radius of about half a kilometer to one kilometer.

An awful lot of course depends on where exactly it detonates, if the infantry is buried, etc. The armored vehicles that are at this distance survive such an attack quite well.

Q: How many such munitions do the Russians really have? Can’t they bluff, just like with conventional ammo?

Even in the 1990s, when Russia was in relatively poor economic condition, it continued to invest in nuclear weapons. So even assuming maybe a third of their arsenal is down, they still have two-thirds left. So they have quite a few. We’re not talking about North Korea here, which has several warheads and probably won’t fly yet.

Some skepticism is appropriate, but always in moderation. The Iskander missiles may not be as accurate as the Russians claim, but that may not be decisive for the battlefield situation. If they officially claim to hit a target with an accuracy of five to ten meters, but in reality, it is 30 meters, this is a hit like a nuclear weapon. If they have to destroy a bridge with it, they will destroy it.

Q: And what if the West doesn’t recognize Putin’s annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk in the coming days – wouldn’t that be a good time for such a demonstration nuclear attack?

I do not believe it. In my opinion, mobilization really delayed such a moment. The Russians may lose the war in three months – but maybe it won’t be so catastrophic. To put it in the vernacular, the Ukrainians “will not run over them”.

We may even be completely wrong and in three months we will be talking about how to help Ukraine keep what it has. It is very difficult to predict.

Q: Purely hypothetical: what would have to happen for the Russians to actually resort to a nuclear strike?

He had to threaten the complete destruction of the Russian army. Or we are talking about an attack on the territory of the Russian Federation, but I emphasize that I mean what the average Russian imagines under this – and this is not Donetsk and Luhansk. It is largely true that Russians do not want to die for Ukraine.

Of course, our perception of the situation is distorted. But that doesn’t change the fact that Ukraine isn’t worth it to most Russians, and the question is why to use nuclear weapons on it.

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