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Kremlin employs nuclear sabre-rattling to influence political debate in west – ISW

Wednesday, 22 May 2024, 06:17
Kremlin employs nuclear sabre-rattling to influence political debate in west – ISW
Photo: RIA Novosi

The Kremlin has timed its nuclear sabre-rattling to coincide with important political discussions in the West.

Source: Institute for the Study of War (ISW)

Details: This is being done as part of a reflexive control campaign to influence Western policymakers.


The Russian Defence Ministry announced on 21 May that the missile troops of the Southern Military District had begun the first stage of non-strategic (tactical) exercises involving the use of nuclear weapons.

The Russian Defence Ministry stated that the Russian Aerospace Forces would also conduct exercises with Iskander ballistic missiles and Kinzhal aeroballistic missiles. They announced preparations for these exercises on 6 May.

ISW noted that a well-known Russian blogger, awarded by the Kremlin, directly linked the Russian nuclear exercises to Kremlin attempts to influence decision-making in the West, particularly with recent discussions about allowing the use of Western weapons to strike military targets in Russia.


This confirms ISW's assessment that Russian tactical nuclear weapons tests are part of the Kremlin's reflexive control campaign.

Russia frequently applies nuclear sabre-rattling to influence Western decision-makers.

ISW also believes that US and Western policies restricting Ukraine's ability to strike military targets in Russia significantly undermine Ukraine's ability to defend itself against current Russian offensive operations in the northern part of Kharkiv Oblast or any area along the border where Russian forces may decide to conduct offensive operations in the future.

To quote ISW's Key Takeaways on 21 May:

  • The Kremlin continues to time its nuclear sabre-rattling to coincide with major policy discussions in the West as part of a Kremlin reflexive control campaign to influence Western decision-makers.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indicated that the limited Russian offensive in northern Ukraine is achieving its goal of drawing attention away from intense Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine.
  • The Russian military command reportedly initially planned that Russian forces would quickly make significant advances in northern Kharkiv Oblast, but the limited force grouping deployed to the area suggests that the Russian military command likely changed these plans in the lead up to offensive operations in Kharkiv Oblast.
  • Russian authorities recently arrested the former commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA), Major General Ivan Popov, on fraud charges.
  • The Kremlin is likely using the pattern of recent arrests of high-ranking officials on corruption charges in the Russian MoD to conceal the real reasons for Popov's punishment almost 10 months after his conflict with the Russian military command and subsequent dismissal from his command position.
  • Satellite imagery indicates that Ukrainian forces likely damaged the Russian Black Sea Fleet's (BSF) Tsyklon small missile ship in occupied Sevastopol, Crimea on 19 May.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Vovchansk, Kreminna, Chasiv Yar, and Donetsk City.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that frequent Ukrainian drone strikes against Russian vehicles that lack electronic warfare (EW) systems along the frontline have created an "urgent" shortage of off-road vehicles.
  • Russian authorities continue to illegally and forcibly deport Ukrainian citizens, including children, to Russia and to forcibly remove Ukrainian citizens deeper into occupied Ukraine.

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