23 February 2015 Last updated at 13:56
By Stephen Ennis BBC Monitoring
Some Russians say the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks were not as
destructive as the Dresden bombing
Nuclear war is the ultimate, unthinkable catastrophe. But in some
sections of the Russian media it is being viewed as a realistic
possibility and even something to be embraced.
As the crisis in Ukraine has deepened over recent months and Moscow's
relations with the West have become ever more strained, talk of
nuclear war has been looming large in the Russian media.
In fact, as liberal journalist Yuriy Saprykin recently noted, it has
almost become "commonplace".
Saprykin was struck by how presenters and listeners on independent
radio station Ekho Moskvy now speak about nuclear war "more or less in
the same way as if they were discussing increases in parking fines".
On other radio stations, the tone of the nuclear debate can be much
"Why are you all so afraid of nuclear war? Why are you afraid of
nuclear war?" presenter Aleksey Gudoshnikov asked listeners to the
pro-Kremlin station Govorit Moskva last month.
He went on to say that people had survived the nuclear attacks on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and that these were actually not as
destructive as the bombing of Dresden some six months earlier.
"This fear of nuclear war is exaggerated, in my view," the 26-year-old
The starting-point of this disturbing trend was the boast made on 16
March last year (the day of the so-called referendum in Crimea) by
controversial TV host and media executive Dmitriy Kiselev that Russia
had the weapons to turn the United States into "radioactive ash".
In a later interview with the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten,
Kiselev said he had merely been making a "technical" observation, and
that people should not accuse him of "dreaming" of such a thing.
He has returned to the theme of nuclear war on his weekly show on
state channel Rossiya 1 on more than one occasion since.
Well-known TV host Dmitriy Kiselev claimed that Russia could turn the
US into "radioactive ash"
On 8 February, he quoted an extract from Russia's military doctrine
setting out the criteria for its use of nuclear weapons.
Kiselev stressed that this could happen not just in response to a
nuclear attack on Russia, but against any military aggression that
"threatens the very existence" of the Russian state.
He also stressed that the decision to push the nuclear button would be
taken personally by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who "enjoys the
unconditional support of the Russian people".
Once again, a nuclear attack was presented not as something to be
shied away from, but as a necessary measure to preserve the nation.
Before the current version of Russia's military doctrine was published
at the end of last year, there had been talk that the section on
nuclear war would be updated to allow for the use of pre-emptive
In the event, that section was left unchanged. Writing in the Moscow
Times, Kremlin critic and military analyst Aleksandr Golts described
it as a "wholly reasonable formulation regarding the use of nuclear
Russian commentators say President Putin has the power and the support
to use nuclear weapons
Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin media regularly talk up the idea that Russia is
indeed facing an existential threat, of the sort that could
potentially permit a nuclear strike.
TV news is full of stories about Nato's military build-up around
Russia's borders, while commentators portray the West as being
hell-bent on the country's destruction.
In a talkshow on Gazprom-Media's NTV on 25 January, pro-Putin pundit
Sergey Markov said the West was preparing the ground for the
"elimination of the Russian people as an entity in world history". A
week later, Kiselev was telling viewers of his weekly show that the
"very existence of Russia is not part of America's plan".
Contrast with USSR
The matter-of-factness or even levity with which the Russian media now
discuss nuclear weapons is new.
The Soviet Union took pride in its nuclear arsenal. But it also viewed
the actual use of nuclear weapons with abhorrence. Nuclear war was to
be avoided at all costs - witness Khrushchev's climb-down in the Cuban
By contrast, says Saprykin, some are losing their fear of nuclear
weapons in today's Russia "where talk of when and how they might be
used is a standard subject of public debate".
Nuclear war - at least in the rhetoric heard in parts of the Russian
media - is no longer unthinkable.
BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print
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Continued Fighting In Ukraine Could Lead to Nuclear War
The Stakes Are Too High Not to Negotiate Peace
By Washington's Blog
Global Research, February 24, 2015
Region: Russia and FSU
In-depth Report: Nuclear War, UKRAINE REPORT
Former Soviet leader and Nobel prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev warned
that the battle in Ukraine could result in a nuclear war:
“A war of this kind would unavoidably lead to a nuclear war,” the 1990
Nobel Peace Prize winner told Der Spiegel news magazine, according to
excerpts released on Friday.
“We won’t survive the coming years if someone loses their nerve in
this overheated situation,” added Gorbachev, 83. “This is not
something I’m saying thoughtlessly. I am extremely concerned.”
One of America’s top experts on Russia – Steven Cohen – has warned
that failure to negotiate a peace treaty in Ukraine could lead to
Steven Starr – a nuclear arms expert and senior scientist for
Physicians for Social Responsibility – warns that proposed U.S.
legislation would be a direct path towards nuclear war with Russia.
Former Russian advisor to Margaret Thatcher John Bowne said yesterday:
I think it is dire particularly because President Obama has had the
wrong end of the stick, and he follows a strategic mistake. When
President Reagan and Secretary of State Gorbachev, with the assistance
of Margret Thatcher, achieved an end to the cold war, in other words,
the colder part of Second World War in the mid 1980’s, it was agreed,
if not in writing but tacitly, that neither side would try to poach on
the old buffer states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. From the Russian
point of view, they see a number of countries have voted quite
democratically, like Poland, to go into the European Union and be
associated with NATO and things like that. They have also seen
activity by the secret services of the West, most notably the CIA in
the Ukraine, to persuade them to go. This has angered the Russians,
and when you come to the Ukraine and Crimea, you are treading on vital
interests of Russia. It is very similar to the situation in October of
1962, when Khrushchev of the Soviet Union decided to put
intercontinental ballistic missiles in Cuba, right in the soft
underbelly of the United States, threating the vital interests of the
United States. In that confrontation, President Kennedy had to win
even if it meant nuclear war. He had to win that battle. In this case,
we have the West interfering in the soft underbelly of Russia, notably
the Ukraine and in Crimea. This threatens the vital interest of Russia
like a warm water port with access to the Eastern Mediterranean, which
they have sought for 200 years. Putin, who enjoys 80 percent domestic
support, has to win even if it means going to war.
This would have a very high risk of slipping into nuclear war. Russia
has enormous ground forces, and they are very up to date. Putin has
updated the Russian armed forces tremendously. They have very
sophisticated rocket weapons, and if we saw massive numbers of our
troops being slaughtered, maybe we would be the first to press the
nuclear button. . . . So, this is a desperate situation.
Former Polish president – and famed anti-communist activist – Lech
Walesa also warned that the U.S. and Nato’s arming of Ukraine could
lead to a nuclear war.
Leading American political activist Noam Chomsky agrees.
Australian doctor and Nobel prize winner Helen Caldicott warns:
The expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders is “very, very dangerous,”
Caldicott said. “There is no way a war between the United States and
Russia could start and not go nuclear. … The United States and Russia
have enormous stockpiles of these weapons. Together they have 94
percent of all the 16,300 nuclear weapons in the world.”
“We are in a very fallible, very dangerous situation operated by mere
mortals,” she warned. “The nuclear weapons, are sitting there,
thousands of them. They are ready to be used.”
Caldicott strongly criticized Obama administration policymakers for
their actions in forward positioning U.S. and NATO military units in
countries of Eastern Europe in response to Russian support of
breakaway separatists in the provinces of eastern Ukraine. On –, the
U.S. government announced the deployment of the Ironhorse Brigade, an
elite armored cavalry unit of the U.S. Army to the former Soviet
republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, along the historic
invasion route from the West to St. Petersburg.
“Do they really want a nuclear war with Russia?” she asked “The only
war that you can have with Russia is a nuclear war. … You don’t
provoke paranoid countries armed with nuclear weapons.”
And see this, this, this, this, this and this.
Indeed, Eric Zuesse says that the risks are so high – and the American
leaders so reckless – that Russia ispreparing for an expected nuclear
attack by the U.S.
Postscript: In the 1987 book To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon’s
Secret War Plans, one of the world’s leading physicists – Michio Kaku
– revealed declassified plans for the U.S. to launch a first-strike
nuclear war against Russia. The forward was written by the former
Attorney General of the United States, Ramsey Clarke.
In Towards a World War III Scenario, Michel Chossudovsky documents
that the U.S. is so enamored with nuclear weapons that it has
authorized low-level field commanders to use them in the heat of
battle in their sole discretion … without any approval from civilian
May cooler heads prevail
Commentary: Nuclear Dangers: Myth, Reality, Responses
By Daryl Kimball and Matthew McKinzie 1:49 p.m. EST February 23, 2015
(Photo: Staff Illustration)
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Since the 2014 ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president, Russia's
destabilization of Ukraine has undermined European security and the
rules-based international order.
Even before the crisis in Ukraine, bilateral cooperation in the
nuclear weapons arena had deteriorated, including US claims of Russian
testing of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987
Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and highly visible patrols
by Russian strategic forces.
Moscow's actions have prompted calls from some to halt implementation
of nuclear arms control agreements, including the 2010 New Strategic
Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which verifiably limits Russian nuclear
potential to no more than 1,550 strategic deployed warheads.
Some members of Congress have suggested the US accelerate nuclear
weapons modernization, develop new nuclear systems and pursue
deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in NATO states on Russia's
But rather than helping to protect Ukraine or NATO, these proposals
would undermine strategic stability and increase nuclear dangers.
Moscow's actions in Ukraine require a tough and unified US and
European response involving diplomacy, economic sanctions and NATO
conventional deterrence, but the challenge can't be effectively
resolved with nuclear weapons or a US nuclear buildup.
As President Barack Obama declared in 2012, "[t]he massive nuclear
arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited for today's
threats." The Pentagon and Joint Chiefs' 2013 review of US nuclear
deterrence requirements determined the US could reduce its deployed
strategic arsenal by up to one-third.
In a joint statement delivered at the Third Conference on the
Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in December, the
Arms Control Association along with four other US groups cited that
Pentagon assessment and said Moscow and Washington could do more to
reduce their nuclear excess and should pursue a further one-third cut
in their strategic stockpiles. With New START verification tools in
place, additional nuclear reductions can be readily achieved without a
We noted that use of just a few hundred nuclear weapons, let alone
more than 3,000, would have catastrophic global consequences. We cited
a 2001 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study that shows that
a "precision" attack against Russia's nuclear forces would kill at
least 8 million to 12 million people and injure millions more. In a
"countervalue" attack on population centers, the United States could
kill or injure up to 50 million Russians with a mere fraction of its
In a Feb. 9 Defense News oped, Matthew Costlow claimed that our Vienna
statement calling for reducing Russian and US nuclear excess is
"immoral" because it would require targeting cities. The implication
he makes, that "counterforce" targeting somehow avoids damage to
civilians and civilian objects, is preposterous. The effects of such
attacks would cause widespread death and damage across either country
— and beyond.
These findings were made public in the NRDC analysis but military
planners and political leaders have been aware of the collateral
effects of nuclear war since the early years of the Cold War. As
President Ronald Reagan concluded in 1984, "a nuclear war can never be
won and must never be fought."
Furthermore, a purely hypothetical situation in which the US targets
Russian nuclear forces and risks only counterforce retaliation is
nonsense. After a nuclear war starts all bets are off. Holding Russian
nuclear force targets at risk means US (and Russian) cities are at
risk in a retaliatory strike. If deterrence fails and there is a
counterforce exchange, both sides are then left in the situation of
city targeting by the remaining nuclear forces.
In our Vienna statement, we questioned whether it is possible, given
the indiscriminate effects of nuclear weapons, that US claims it "will
not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects"
with nuclear weapons would have any practical effect in avoiding the
"collateral" damage prohibited by the Law of Armed Conflict.
Costlow is also dead wrong when he says we are proposing "unilateral"
US disarmament. In fact, we specifically criticized Russia for saying
"nyet" to Obama's 2013 proposal for a one-third cut in both countries
What's more, in our Vienna statement, we also criticized other
nuclear-armed states for pursuing unnecessary and destabilizing
We proposed "making nuclear disarmament" a global enterprise. We
called on all states to press China, India and Pakistan, in
particular, not to increase their fissile material or weapons stocks.
A unified push for further US-Russian arms cuts combined with a
nuclear weapons freeze by other nuclear-armed states could create the
conditions for meaningful nuclear risk reduction.
The situation can and must be made safer, beginning with a clear
understanding of the risks and the elimination of excess nuclear
forces. Doing nothing is not a responsible, or morally acceptable,
Daryl Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association,
and Matthew McKinzie is senior scientist and director of the nuclear
program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Are the U.S. and Russian Governments Once Again on the Nuclear Warpath?
February 22, 2015 | Filed under: Opinion/Columns | Posted by: PeaceTalk
By Lawrence S. Wittner
A quarter century after the end of the Cold War and decades after the
signing of landmark nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements,
are the U.S. and Russian governments once more engaged in a
potentially disastrous nuclear arms race with one another? It
certainly looks like it.
With approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons between them, the United
States and Russia already possess about 93 percent of the world’s
nuclear arsenal, making them the world’s nuclear hegemons. But,
apparently, like great powers throughout history, they do not consider
their vast military might sufficient, especially in the context of
their growing international rivalry.
Although, in early 2009, President Barack Obama announced his
“commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear
weapons,” the U.S. government today has moved well along toward
implementing an administration plan for U.S. nuclear “modernization.”
This entails spending $355 billion over a 10-year period for a massive
renovation of U.S. nuclear weapons plants and laboratories. Moreover,
the cost is scheduled to soar after this renovation, when an array of
new nuclear weapons will be produced. “That’s where all the big money
is,” noted Ashton Carter, recently nominated as U.S. Secretary of
Defense. “By comparison, everything that we’re doing now is cheap.”
The Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to plan for 12 new
nuclear missile-firing submarines, up to 100 new nuclear bombers, and
400 land-based nuclear missiles. According to outside experts and a
bipartisan, independent panel commissioned by Congress and the Defense
Department, that will bring the total price tag for the U.S. nuclear
weapons buildup to approximately $1 trillion.
For its part, the Russian government seems determined to match―or
surpass―that record. With President Vladimir Putin eager to use
nuclear weapons as a symbol of Russian influence, Moscow is building,
at great expense, new generations of giant ballistic missile
submarines, as well as nuclear attack submarines that are reportedly
equal or superior to their U.S. counterparts in performance and
stealth. Armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles, they
periodically make forays across the Atlantic, heading for the U.S.
coast. Deeply concerned about the potential of these missiles to
level a surprise attack, the U.S. military has already launched the
first of two experimental “blimps” over Washington, DC, designed to
help detect them. The Obama administration also charges that Russian
testing of a new medium-range cruise missile is a violation of the
1987 INF treaty. Although the Russian government denies the existence
of the offending missile, its rhetoric has been less than diplomatic.
As the Ukraine crisis developed, Putin told a public audience that
“Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” and foreign nations
“should understand it’s best not to mess with us.” Pravda was even
more inflammatory. In an article published in November titled “Russia
prepares a nuclear surprise for NATO,” it bragged about Russia’s
alleged superiority over the United States in nuclear weaponry.
Not surprisingly, the one nuclear disarmament agreement signed between
the U.S. and Russian governments since 2003―the New START treaty of
2011―is being implemented remarkably slowly. New START, designed to
reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons (the most
powerful ones) in each country by 30 percent by 2018, has not led to
substantial reductions in either nation’s deployed nuclear arsenal.
Indeed, between March and October 2014, the two nations each increased
their deployed nuclear forces. Also, they maintain large arsenals of
nuclear weapons targeting one another, with about 1,800 of them on
high alert―ready to be launched within minutes against the populations
of both nations.
The souring of relations between the U.S. and Russian governments has
been going on for years, but it has reached a very dangerous level
during the current confrontation over Ukraine. In their dealings with
this conflict-torn nation, there’s plenty of fault on both sides.
U.S. officials should have recognized that any Russian government
would have been angered by NATO’s steady recruitment of East European
countries―especially Ukraine, which had been united with Russia in the
same nation until recently, was sharing a common border with Russia,
and was housing one of Russia’s most important naval bases (in
Crimea). For their part, Russian officials had no legal basis for
seizing and annexing Crimea or aiding heavily-armed separatists in the
eastern portion of Ukraine.
But however reckless the two nuclear behemoths have been, this does
not mean that they have to continue this behavior. Plenty of
compromise formulas exist―for example, leaving Ukraine out of NATO,
altering that country’s structure to allow for a high degree of
self-government in the war-torn east, and organizing a UN-sponsored
referendum in Crimea. And possibilities for compromise also exist in
other areas of U.S.-Russian relations.
Failing to agree to a diplomatic settlement of these and other issues
will do more than continue violent turmoil in Ukraine. Indeed, the
disastrous, downhill slide of both the United States and Russia into a
vastly expensive nuclear arms race will bankrupt them and, also, by
providing an example of dependence on nuclear might, encourage the
proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional nations. After all,
how can they succeed in getting other countries to forswear developing
nuclear weapons when―47 years after the U.S. and Soviet governments
signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which they pledged
their own nuclear disarmament―their successors are engaged in yet
another nuclear arms race? Finally, of course, this new arms race,
unless checked, seems likely to lead, sooner or later, to a nuclear
catastrophe of immense proportions.
Can the U.S. and Russian governments calm down, settle their quarrels
peacefully, and return to a policy of nuclear disarmament? Let’s hope
Lawrence Wittner (lawrenceswittner.com), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is
Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is
“What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel
about campus life.