April 21, 2018

Russia’s Nuclear Policy: Worrying for the Wrong Reasons


DownloadPDFThe Russian nuclear problem is real and serious – but it is political more than it is military.

By: Bruno Tertrais

Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy April–May 2018

Article Type: Commentary

Pages: 33-44

Volume: 60

Edition number: 2

Date: 20 March 2018

The dominant narrative about Russia’s nuclear weapons in Western strategic literature since the beginning of the century has been something like this: Russia’s doctrine of ‘escalate to de-escalate’, and its large-scale military exercises, show that Moscow is getting ready to use low-yield, theatre nuclear weapons to stop NATO from defeating Russia’s forces, or to coerce the Atlantic Alliance and end a conflict on terms favourable to Russia.

Examples of this narrative abound in recent official and non-official statements and writings. In 2015, two senior US Department of Defense (DoD) officials testified to Congress that ‘Russian military doctrine includes what some have called an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy – a strategy that purportedly seeks to deescalate a conventional conflict through coercive threats, including limited nuclear use’.1 In 2016, Admiral Cecil Haney, then commander of US Strategic Command, said that Russia was ‘declaring and recklessly demonstrating its willingness to escalate to deescalate if required’.2 That same year, a NATO secretary-general report claimed that Russian large-scale ‘exercises include simulated nuclear attacks on NATO Allies (e.g., ZAPAD)’.3 A US expert declares that ‘in the event of a major war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [Russian] plans call for “de-escalatory” nuclear strikes. That is, Vladimir Putin would order limited nuclear attacks early, so as to frighten the US into ending the conflict on terms favourable to Moscow.’4 A towering figure of the US strategic community asserts that: ‘The Russian military has devised a doctrine which envisions using a small number of very low-yield nuclear weapons to attack NATO forces defending Alliance territory’.5 A European analyst writes that during recent exercises, ‘Russia rehearsed the use of limited low-yield nuclear strikes to intimidate the West into accepting Russian territorial gains’.6 Breathless reporting in Western media often includes the same claims.

The 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) exemplifies this narrative and paints a rather frightening picture of the Russian theatre-nuclear threat. To wit:

Russia’s belief that limited first use, potentially including low-yield weapons, can provide such an advantage is based, in part, on Moscow’s perception that its great number and variety of non-strategic nuclear systems provide a coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict. Recent Russian statements on this evolving nuclear weapons doctrine appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons. Russia demonstrates its perception of the advantage these systems provide through numerous exercise and statements.

Russia may also rely on threats of limited nuclear first use, or actual first use, to coerce us, our allies, and partners into terminating a conflict on terms favorable to Russia …

[Russia] mistakenly assesses that the threat of nuclear escalation or actual first use of nuclear weapons would serve to ‘de-escalate’ a conflict on terms favorable to Russia …

[Russia] is also building a large, diverse, and modern set of non-strategic systems that are dual-capable (may be armed with nuclear or conventional weapons). These theater- and tactical-range systems are not accountable under the New START Treaty and Russia’s non-strategic nuclear modernization is increasing the total number of such weapons in its arsenal, while significantly improving its delivery capabilities …

Most concerning are Russia’s national security policies, strategies, and doctrine that include an emphasis on the threat of limited nuclear escalation, and its continuing development and fielding of increasingly diverse and expanding nuclear capabilities. Moscow threatens and exercises limited nuclear first use, suggesting a mistaken expectation that coercive nuclear threats or limited first use could paralyze the United States and NATO and thereby end a conflict on terms favorable to Russia. Some in the United States refer to this as Russia’s ‘escalate to de-escalate’ doctrine. ‘De-escalation’ in this sense follows from Moscow’s mistaken assumption of Western capitulation on terms favorable to Moscow.7

Most of the elements of this narrative, however, rely on weak evidence – and there is strong evidence to counter many of them. Russia is not building new dedicated theatre-nuclear systems, and there is little evidence of new ‘low-yield’ warheads; it does not have an ‘escalate to de-escalate’ doctrine; and it is not practising the use of nuclear weapons in large-scale military exercises. The Russian nuclear problem is real and serious – but it is political more than it is military.

Russia’s arsenal

Almost all open sources, including the US 2018 NPR, refer to a Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) arsenal of about 2,000 warheads (‘non-strategic’ here referring to those weapons not designed to be carried by New START-constrained launchers). The same sources differ in their evaluation of the number of operationally available warheads (that is, those which are available for planning and are not held in reserve). The most detailed recent open-source study, published in 2012, suggests that out of 1,900, only about half of this arsenal is available, most of it being assigned to naval, air and air-defence forces in western Russia.8 A total of 1,900 would amount, according to data provided by the author of the study, to less than 10% of the late Cold War Soviet NSNW arsenal. Such a 93% reduction, one should note, would not be vastly different from what NATO’s own deployed NSNW arsenal has undergone since its 1970s peak (a 97% reduction).9

Rumours and Russian threats of new nuclear deployments in Kaliningrad started about two decades ago. These rumours and threats generally involved a degree of confusion, perhaps deliberate, between missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, on the one hand, and the warheads themselves, on the other. References were made first to the dual-capable short-range missiles SS-21 Tochka-Uand then, in the past ten years, to the more modern SS-26 Iskander-M, which is almost certainly dual-capable, although its nuclear capability has never been publicly acknowledged by Moscow.10 After years of Russian threats to do so, the Iskander-M was deployed in the enclave in 2016, allegedly temporarily, as a supposed reprisal for the deployment of NATO ballistic-missile defences. Specific references to nuclear warheads, however, have been scant. It is possible that Kaliningrad, which hosts large military facilities, has been a depot of nuclear warheads for some time, notably for the Russian navy; but there is no evidence of nuclear-warhead deployments dedicated to the Iskander-M. It has been speculated that the nuclear warhead for this missile could be either the one designed for the SS-21 or the one designed for the SS-23 Oka.11 Given the relatively short shelf life of Russian non-strategic warheads, it is at least equally possible that Russia adapted one of these designs.

Has Russia developed new types of warheads of the low-yield variety? It is possible that it reduced the yield of existing ones, as several nuclear powers have done in the past or are doing today, by reducing the amount of fissile or fusible material contained in the warhead. But evidence of new types of low-yield warheads is absent – and programmes to develop such warheads would be of dubious reliability in the absence of full-scale testing. The only available source is a nearly 20-year-old declassified (though heavily redacted) CIA Intelligence Memorandum, which seems to refer to Russian interest in, more than development of, a new, tailored, low-yield warhead.12

Ambiguity is at the core of Russian strategy. However, for our purposes here we should distinguish between ambiguity as a political strategy (intentionally projecting uncertainty about the nature of the threat) and ambiguity as a technical fact (the built-in dual capability of launchers). Dual capability applies to many bombers and missiles: it is in the genes of Russian strategic culture. It is also a product of the severe budgetary constraints of the 1990s and 2000s, as well as a practical matter, to simplify force management. Lest we forget, some Alliance assets are also dual-capable (the F-16, Tornado and Rafale bombers). Finally, as others have observed, retaining a large NSNW arsenal may also be a bargaining chip: ‘Russia is quite simply loath to give up something it has a lot of without getting something else in return.’13

Yes, Russia is ramping up the development, deployment and use of theatre-range launchers and missiles – including the new SSC-8, a cruise missile that almost certainly violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. But this does not mean a renewed emphasis on the nuclear capability of such systems.

Russia’s doctrine

In 2010, Russia raised its stated nuclear threshold. Today, its doctrine no longer emphasises nuclear deterrence, but ‘strategic deterrence’ (nuclear and non-nuclear). As described in the 2014 military doctrine:

The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened.14

This wording – the same as in 2010 – suggests that NSNW are no longer weapons to compensate for military weakness or reverse the course of a battle, but rather instruments of war termination. That is, they would be used to re-establish deterrence more than they would be used to win the war in military terms. Russian officials have suggested that in 2010 a secret document accompanying the published doctrine was also adopted.15 But, rather than being a ‘secret nuclear doctrine’ to contradict the official one, this is much more likely to have been a more detailed version of the official document, for the purposes of planning or programming.

This change is not surprising; indeed, it is consistent with what we know about the evolution of Russian conventional armed forces over the past decade. Moscow feels much more comfortable with its capabilities than it did ten years ago, at the time of the invasion of Georgia.

Does the expression ‘escalate to de-escalate’ aptly characterise Russian nuclear doctrine? Taken literally – as its original authors (three Russian military experts) suggested in 1999 – there is nothing shocking about this concept.16 It suggests that, if Russia found itself in a losing situation, the limited use of nuclear weapons would aim at an early termination of the conflict by re-establishing deterrence. Isn’t that how NATO and its nuclear powers have traditionally thought about limited use?

In any case, the expression has long since disappeared from official Russian writings. As a matter of fact – and although some Russian officials occasionally used it in public statements in the 2000s – the word ‘de-escalation’ seems to have appeared only once in a Russian official document, a Ministry of Defence report of 2003. That document described four missions for strategic deterrence: ‘in peacetime – to prevent power politics and aggression against Russia or its allies; in wartime – de-escalation of aggression; termination of hostilities on conditions acceptable to Russia; impair the adversary’s capability to a target level’. The report also included a box defining de-escalation as follows: ‘De-escalation of aggression: forcing the enemy to halt military action by a threat to deliver or by actual delivery of strikes of varying intensity with reliance on conventional and (or) nuclear weapons.’17 (Note, incidentally, that the de-escalatory threat was much broader than nuclear use.) As Olga Oliker, a noted expert on Russia, puts it, ‘the evidence that Russia’s nuclear strategy is one of “de-escalation”, or that it has lowered its threshold for nuclear use, is far from convincing’.

It is thus baffling that the US NPR referred to this expression. At least its drafters were wise enough to be cautious in one of the two references: ‘Some in the United States refer to this as Russia’s “escalate to de-escalate” doctrine.’18

Of course, at the end of the day, it is likely, as a NATO analyst put it after a careful review of Russia’s military thinking, that ‘Russia’s nuclear threshold in a crisis or conflict would be … subject to political decisions in the circumstances of the moment. The bottom line is that Russia’s nuclear threshold would be wherever the president, as commander-in-chief, chooses.’19 However, this last sentence, taken literally, is also true for France, the United Kingdom and the United States.20

As for Russian ‘nuclear threats’, these are generally made by mid-level officials and parliamentarians. By contrast, President Vladimir Putin’s own statements on this question are rarely shocking. To give but one example, Putin’s much-discussed 2015 statement about the Crimean crisis was simply an ex post declaration stating that Putin had been ‘ready’ to put nuclear forces on alert if need be.21 Hardly a threat.

Russia’s exercises

Exercises are important for understanding Russia’s nuclear posture, because, as the saying goes, Moscow trains as it fights and fights as it trains. So what do large-scale ones such as the Zapad (Western front) and Vostok (Eastern front) exercises tell us?

They tell us that the last time one of them indisputably included nuclear use was almost 20 years ago, in 1999 (Russia was explicit about it), and that no known theatre military exercise has included nuclear-weapons use for a decade. This is unsurprising: Russia now ‘wins’ – or at least ‘resists’ – without nuclear weapons.

It is often claimed that Zapad 2009 included a nuclear strike against Europe, but this claim comes from a single source, a report by the Polish magazine Wprost. A cable reporting on a NATO debriefing of the exercise shows how the frequent confusion between ‘nuclear’ and ‘nuclear-capable’ permits speculation to be reported as fact. The US ambassador to NATO described it as follows: ‘The exercise included … missile launches, some of which may have simulated the use of tactical nuclear weapons.’22 However, as quoted by a respectable expert, this became: ‘A Wikileaks document suggests that recent military exercises in the Baltic region and the Russian Far East involved simulated nuclear launches.’23

Regarding Zapad 2013an in-depth analysis of the exercise co-published by the Jamestown Foundation – hardly known as a hotbed of Russia appeasers – concludes that ‘the limited use of nuclear weapons was not simulated during Zapad-2013’.24 Same for Zapad 2017: a conservative US expert on Russian military issues concluded in a long analysis that ‘Unlike the earlier Zapad exercises, there was no indication that Russia was in a desperate situation when they initiated simulated nuclear strikes. Indeed, they had won’.25

There is a nuclear dimension overshadowing large-scale exercises such as Zapads. In 2017, for instance, RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests bracketed or bookended Zapad: one (silo-based) test took place on 12 September, two days before the exercise; another (mobile) one happened on 20 September, its last day, although there was no indication that it was part of Zapad.26 A ballistic missile was reportedly ‘launched’ from a Northern Fleet submarine during the defensive phase of Zapad 2017, but an official Ukrainian statement – another source not known for disparaging Russian military threats – refers to it as only an ‘electronic’ launch, or a simulation.27

Nuclear exercises may thus be connected with, yet separated from, recent Zapads. (Autumn is generally the season of Russian strategic-nuclear-forces readiness exercises.) As an in-depth Swedish analysis of Russian exercises from 2011 to 2014 put it, ‘nuclear forces often, but not always, trained in connection with annual strategic exercises or major surprise inspections’.28 If so, this suggests an obvious conclusion: Russia would see any conflict with the West as a potentially nuclear one, and Moscow would engage in nuclear signalling during the conflict for the purpose of political coercion.

The psychological dimension of this issue is important. When Russia uses dual-capable bombers such as the Tupolev-22, observers often choose to see a nuclear strike even though nothing indicates that this is the case. They are subject to confirmation bias. A long-distance strike against Sweden was simulated by such bombers in late March 2013. Its claim to fame stems from the fact that this was – bizarrely – mentioned as a ‘nuclear’ strike in a NATO secretary-general public report.29 But there is no evidence that this was the case. Sloppy drafting happens even in respectable organisations. Likewise, the dual-capable Iskander-M is often used in exercises – but short-range conventional ballistic missiles have been a fixture of Russian theatre operations from Afghanistan to Georgia and Syria, so there is no intrinsic reason to believe that this is a simulation of nuclear use.

For observers who genuinely think that Russia has a low nuclear threshold and regularly practises theatre-nuclear strikes, analysing its exercising can trigger cognitive dissonance: they can only reconcile the facts with their beliefs by choosing to see a nuclear strike even though nothing indicates that this is the case. This author remembers that in 2015, during a discussion with Western experts, an analyst confessed that having studied Russian large-scale exercises, he ‘could not understand’ why there seemed to be less and less emphasis on the nuclear dimension. Having unconsciously discarded the hypothesis according to which Russia was increasingly comfortable with its classical forces, he had forgotten the cardinal rule of research sometimes known as Ockham’s razor: the simplest explanation is often the correct one. There might be an element of groupthink here.

* * *

Russia is once again proud of its conventional forces, and it wants to be perceived as an equal to the United States. Hence its emphasis on ‘strategic deterrence’ and the use of long-range conventional cruise missiles such as Kalibr in Syria. Moscow is deliberately ambiguous about the characteristics of its forces and the nature of the exercises it conducts: it does not say whether they are nuclear or conventional. This is probably a political strategy. Russia has seen that nuclear ambiguity makes us uncomfortable, and that it potentially complicates our thinking and our planning. So Russia plays with that fact. As Oliker has observed of the nuclear arming of Iskander-M, ‘the Russians have realized that the prospect makes the United States and its NATO allies nervous’.30

To reiterate the point, it would not make sense for Russia to hide a renewed emphasis on nuclear weapons or a low nuclear threshold, because it knows that this is what scares us. Alternative explanations are unsatisfying: it is highly dubious, for instance, that the absence of a nuclear element in recent exercises reflects ‘concern over the unfavourable publicity’ that it would bring Moscow.31

To be clear, this has no direct implications for the Atlantic Alliance’s nuclear posture. Irrespective of what Russia’s nuclear policy is, NATO needs to have a solid deterrent that includes the possibility to selectively strike Russia to deter Moscow from – and, if needed, respond to – limited nuclear use. Thus, even if the US NPR’s diagnosis of Russian nuclear policy is flawed, it does not necessarily follow that its decisions with regard to the improvement of deterrence in Europe are off the mark.

But the Russian nuclear-threat narrative needs to be deconstructed. There are enough good reasons to worry about Russia’s behaviour – from its reckless and dangerous military provocations to its violations of arms-control and disarmament treaties, and its temptation to play the nuclear card as a tool of political coercion – to worry about its nuclear weapons for the wrong reasons. Kristen Ven Bruusgaard, a prominent European analyst of Russian military affairs, has it right: ‘The fixation with the alleged “lowered nuclear threshold” is a symptom of a larger challenge the West has not had to face for some time: a nuclear-armed adversary with mature capabilities and concepts designed to take advantage of Western weaknesses.’32


The author would like to thank Isabelle Facon, Thomas Moore and Brad Roberts for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.


1 ‘Statement of Robert Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Before the House Committee on Armed Services’, 25 June 2015, p. 4, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS00/20150625/103669/HHRG-114-AS00-Wstate-WorkR-20150625.pdf.

2 Admiral Cecil D. Haney, remarks to the Project on Nuclear Issues Capstone Conference, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, 13 April 2016, http://www.stratcom.mil/Media/Speeches/Article/986478/project-on-nuclear-issues-capstone-conference/.

3 Jens Stoltenberg, ‘Secretary General’s Annual Report 2015’, NATO, 28 January 2016, p. 19, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_01/20160128_SG_AnnualReport_2015_en.pdf.

4 Matthew Kroenig, ‘The Case for Tactical US Nukes’, Wall Street Journal, 24 January 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-case-for-tactical-u-s-nukes-1516836395.

5 Franklin C. Miller, ‘The Nuclear Posture Review: Fiction and Fact’, Real Clear Defense, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2018/02/20/the_nuclear_posture_review__fiction_and_fact_113080.html.

6 Gustav Gressel, ‘The Draft US Nuclear Posture Review Is Not As Crazy As It Sounds’, European Council on Foreign Relations, 19 January 2018, http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_the_draft_us_nuclear_posture_review_is_not_as_crazy_as_it_sounds.

7 US Department of Defense, ‘Nuclear Posture Review 2018’ [hereafter 2018 NPR], February 2018, pp. XI–XII, 7, 9 and 30, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.

8 Igor Sutyagin, ‘Atomic Accounting: A New Estimate of Russia’s Non-Strategic Nuclear Forces’, Royal United Services Institute, 2012, https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/201211_op_atomic_accounting.pdf.

9 US Department of Defense, ‘Report of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on DoD Nuclear Weapons Management, Phase II: Review of the DoD Nuclear Mission’, December 2008, p. 59, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/PhaseIIReportFinal.pdf.

10 For background, see Nikolai Sokov, ‘A Second Sighting of Russian Tactical Nukes in Kaliningrad’, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, 15 February 2011, https://www.nonproliferation.org/a-second-sighting-of-russian-tactical-nukes-in-kaliningrad-2/.

11 Sutyagin, ‘Atomic Accounting: A New Estimate of Russia’s Non-Strategic Nuclear Forces’.

12 See Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Evidence of Russian Development of New Subkiloton Nuclear Warheads’, 30 August 2000, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0001260463.pdf; and Jeffrey G. Lewis, ‘Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons’, Arms Control Wonk, 3 December 2010, https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/203309/russian-tactical-nuclear-weapons/.

13 Olga Oliker and Andrey Bakilitsky, ‘The Nuclear Posture Review and Russian “De-Escalation”: A Dangerous Solution to a Nonexistent Problem’, War on the Rocks, 20 February 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/02/nuclear-posture-review-russian-de-escalation-dangerous-solution-nonexistent-problem/.

14 ‘Voennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii 2014’ [The 2014 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation], paragraph 27, http://Kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf.

15 See Mark B. Schneidet, ‘Escalate to De-Escalate’, Proceedings, vol. 143, no. 2, February 2017, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017-02/escalate-de-escalate.

16 Major General V.I. Levshin, Colonel A.V. Nedelin and Colonel M.E. Sosnovskii, ‘O primenenii yadernogo oruzhiya dlya deeskalatsii voennykh deistvii’ [On the use of nuclear weapons for the purposes of de-escalation of military confrontation], Voennaya Mysl’ [Military Thought], Moscow, January 1999, http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/2449543.

17 ‘Aktoual’nye zadatchi razvitiia vooroujennykh sil Rossiïskoï Federatsii’ [Priority Tasks for the Development of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces], October 2003. For the English text, see p. 70 of http://red-stars.org/doctrine.pdf.

18 Olga Oliker, ‘Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine. What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means’, Center for Strategic and Security Studies, May 2016, p. 2, ttps://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160504_Oliker_RussiasNuclearDoctrine_Web.pdf.

19 Dave Johnson, ‘Russia’s Conventional Precision Strike Capabilities, Regional Crises, and Nuclear Thresholds’, Livermore Papers on Global Security, no. 3, February 2018, p. 69, https://cgsr.llnl.gov/content/assets/docs/Precision-Strike-Capabilities-report-v3-7.pdf.

20 Johnson rightly notes, in this regard, that the mention of ‘the State’ (gosudarstsvo) should be understood as state institutions or the normal functioning of the central government. See David Johnson, ‘Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Approach to Conflict’, Recherches & Documents, no. 06/16, Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, November 2016, p. 61.

21 ‘Ukraine Conflict: Putin “Was Ready for Nuclear Alert”’, BBC, 15 March 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31899680.

22 ‘NATO–RUSSIA: NAC DISCUSSES RUSSIAN MILITARY EXERCISES’, cable, 23 November 2009, available at https://www.aftenposten.no/norge/i/BlJ7l/23112009-NATO-RUSSIA-NAC-DISCUSSES-RUSSIAN-MILITARY-EXERCISES.

23 Sutyagin, ‘Atomic Accounting’, p. 54.

24 Liudas Zdanavičius and Matthew Czekaj (eds), ‘Russia’s Zapad 2013 Military Exercise: Lessons for Baltic Regional Security’, Jamestown Foundation, December 2015, p. 6, https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Zapad-2013-Full-online-final.pdf.

25 Mark B. Schneider, ‘Zapad-2017: A Major Russian War Against NATO, Again’, Real Clear Defense, 6 October 2017, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2017/10/06/zapad-2017_a_major_russian_war_against_nato_again_112441.html.

26 Ibid.

27 See Johnson, ‘Russia’s Conventional Precision Strike Capabilities, Regional Crises, and Nuclear Thresholds’, p. 88; and National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, ‘Olexandr Turchynov: Missile-Nuclear Finale of the “Zapad-2017”’, http://www.rnbo.gov.ua/en/news/2887.html.

28 Johan Norberg, ‘Training to Fight: Russia’s Major Military Exercises 2011–2014’, Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut [Swedish Defense Research Agency], December 2015, p. 61, https://www.foi.se/reportsummary?reportNo=FOI-R--4128--SE.

29 Stoltenberg, ‘Secretary General’s Annual Report 2015’, p. 19.

30 Oliker, ‘Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine’, p. 11.

31 Zdanavičius and Czekaj (eds), ‘Russia’s Zapad 2013 Military Exercise’, p. 9. A possible explanation would be fear of pre-emption; but nothing indicates that this is actually the case.

32 Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, ‘The Myth of Russia’s Lowered Nuclear Threshold’, War On The Rocks, 22 September 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/the-myth-of-russias-lowered-nuclear-threshold/.

Bruno Tertrais is Deputy Director of the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique.

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