The Big Red Button: Russia’s Nuclear Threat

(Photo: International Businesses Times)

By Eliza Gill – Regular Contributor

The war in Ukraine has entered its seventh week. Whilst the animosity continues, attention has turned to Sweden and Finland as they deliberate joining NATO. It has raised concerns about nuclear weapons. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked fears within the Nordic countries, leading them to suggest ending their decade long commitment to non-military alignment. Doing such could escalate tensions between Russia and the rest of the world further. 

The security situation in Europe has been changing rapidly since the invasion of Ukraine. One reason behind the invasion itself is Russia’s distaste for Ukraine’s desire to join NATO. A key aspect of which would have been the military protection NATO provides its members. When created in 1949, one of NATO’s main goals was to contain Russian expansion. Now 30 members strong, and having seen what happened to Ukraine, it is easy to see why Finland and Sweden want to join. This is not the first time Ukraine has suffered for wanting to join international institutions. There was mass civil unrest in Kyiv between 2013-2014 when former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych did a U-turn on his promise to sign a deal with the EU. He partnered with the Russian Federation instead. Protests ensued and led to a gruesome 93 day battle between protestors and police over Ukraine’s political status and ties with Russia. Eventually, the fight caused Yanukovych to flee to Russia, leaving the door for democracy open. However, Russian influence did not end there. Attention then turned to Crimea, which was subsequently annexed. 

The prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdelena Andersson met in Stockholm on the 13th April to discuss the decision to join the alliance. Marin claimed that Finland is likely to finalise their decision in a matter of weeks, not months. Similarly, Andersson stated that there is no point in delaying the decision. The rapid call to end their commitment to neutrality proves the intensity of the situation, and the fears of the people.

Sharing a border with Russia, Finland has a deep history with the country. Finland gained independence in 1917 after 150 years of Russian rule, fought off a Soviet invasion during WWII, and it remained a neutral state in the Cold War in order to maintain peace with its neighbour. It seems that this time, neutrality is no longer an option. The Nordic country announced a military exercise, partnering with the UK, US, Estonia and Latvia; its border with Russia becoming a simmering pot that could boil over at any moment. Russia’s border is beginning to fill with NATO members. This pressure on Russia has led to threats of ‘undesirable consequences’ and will allegedly escalate the military situation, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Alexander Grushko has said. Indeed, it is assumed by many that this threat is nuclear.

After an explosion in the sea, Russia’s flagship missile cruiser Moskva was towed to a port in the Black Sea. it had been struck by a Ukrainian cruise-missile. The crew abandoned the ship and the cruiser sank. No warship of such size has been sunk since the Falklands war. Russian ships went to aid Moskva, but due to storms and ammunition on-board blowing up, efforts were unsuccessful. There have been reports that Moskva had been holding nuclear weapons – but these reports have not been confirmed. 

Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, has said that Russia will have to strengthen its forces in the Blatic Sea, should they decide to join NATO. He escalated this threat by saying that a ‘nuclear free’ Baltic could not be possible. It is said, however, that there have been Russian missiles in Kaliningrad for years already. Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave in the heart of Europe. It shares borders with Poland and Lithuania. The range of the Iskander missiles hosted in it are speculated at 500km, meaning, it is a threat to many in the NATO alliance. Moreover, Belarus agreed to abandon its status as a non-nuclear weapon country – it will host tactical weapons for Russia on its territory. 

As tensions escalate, it seems Putin’s finger hovers closer to the ‘big red button’. While the West attempts to deter Russia from its use of nuclear weapons, the threat steadily increases with every move. The US has been warned of ‘consequences’ should it continue to arm Ukraine, and Sweden and Finland have been threatened the same way. It is taking concerns seriously, though as of yet, the threat from Russia seems to be ‘rhetorical posturing’ in an attempt to intimidate. Biden has said, however, that for Sweden and Finland, the door to NATO remains open. 

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