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A recent article published by the Financial Times[1] has brought tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) again to the fore. The British newspaper has received documents which report the design of some exercises held by the Russian military, in which the utilization of TNWs was triggered by situations less extreme than those outlined in public documents. This means that Moscow may decide to launch a nuclear strike even if its existence is not threatened.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, TNWs have been mentioned several times. In particular, the utilization of such weapons by Moscow against Kyiv or NATO allies in case of intervention has been depicted as a credible scenario.

Russian officials themselves have adopted an aggressive rhetoric at different stages of the conflict, strengthening the perception in numerous western commentators that Russia is actually willing to carry out a nuclear strike – and that in some cases it was even close do to so. The most notable example is the reiterated threats issued by President Vladimir Putin at the beginning of the invasion, when he referred to “those [countries] who may be tempted to interfere”[2] saying that “the consequences will be such as [they] have never seen in [their] entire history”[3]. The Kremlin has gained western media’s attention again in the last weeks, as President Putin and Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov have blamed the West for a dangerous behavior that has the potential to trigger a nuclear war[4].

The scenario outlined in abovementioned documents compounds the image of Russia as an aggressive State, ready to use massive force, even in a first-strike fashion, to achieve quickly its objectives. TNWs make this perceived aura more credible, thanks to their alleged nature. Being tactical, their destructive power is expected to provoke a lighter impact on the battlefield than the bigger, strategic ones.

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