In a new CNN interview published Tuesday, a Kremlin spokesman refused to rule out that it might use nuclear weapons when pressed by Christiane Amanpour, during a series of questions focused on the Russia’s war in Ukraine. The discussion stemmed in part from Moscow last month placing its strategic nuclear forces on higher alert.
While the clip of Putin presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov being pressed by Amanpour is now going viral with scary sounding headlines and commentary suggesting nuclear war is being mulled by Russia as a legitimate ‘option’, it doesn’t appear he said anything substantially new in terms of a change in Russian nuclear doctrine. “We have a concept of domestic security, and it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” Peskov emphasized.
President Putin has raised the threat of using nuclear weapons – and his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused to rule out their use, in an interview with me tonight. pic.twitter.com/uxQqncLGYN
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) March 22, 2022
He further said nukes could only be contemplated in an existential threat scenario, which suggests in the event of a major foreign attack waged on Russia or Russian soil. “So if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept,” he said.
It was in response to Amanpour asking Peskov if he was “convinced or confident” that Vladimir Putin would resist using the nuclear weapons related to the Ukraine invasion. The segment was introduced with the CNN host asking whether Putin is trying to “scare” the West and Ukraine by invoking the nuclear option.
But given Peskov didn’t definitively rule out nuclear usage related Amanpour’s Ukraine questions, it triggered a quick rebuke from the Pentagon in an afternoon press briefing, according to Reuters:
Asked about Peskov’s statement, and Russia’s nuclear stance more broadly, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called Moscow’s rhetoric on potential use of nuclear weapons “dangerous.”
Kirby said further:
“It’s not the way a responsible nuclear power should act,” he told reporters.
That said, Kirby stressed that Pentagon officials “haven’t seen anything that would lead us to conclude that we need to change our strategic deterrent posture.”
Kirby added that “We monitor this as best we can every day.” So while rejecting the Peskov remarks as irresponsible and dangerous, he seemed to tacitly acknowledged that nothing regarding Russia’s nuclear doctrine in terms of when these weapons can or cannot be launched has actually changed.
Russia’s massive nuclear stockpile, the largest in the world, is a throwback to the Soviet Cold War era…
#UPDATE Russia would only use nuclear weapons in the context of the Ukraine conflict if it were facing an “existential threat,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN International Tuesday https://t.co/GZv9PD2f6B
Earlier this month, Biden himself acknowledged the potential for the war in Ukraine to spiral out of control leading to the possibility of confrontation between nuclear-armed powers, while pledging to not send US troops into the fight.
“We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent,” he stressed at the time.
Biden: “We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. A direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is world war 3 — something we must strive to prevent. But we already know Putin’s war against Ukraine will never be a victory.” pic.twitter.com/gxxqxkgHHP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 11, 2022
Meanwhile, mainstream media itself has often framed questions that seem aimed at provoking statements from Western political leaders that are maximally hawkish, as The Intercept’s Ryan Grim has documented.