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Russia loses its stronghold in Ukraine. Will it resort to tactical nuclear weapons?

As Ukrainian forces drive Russia out of Lyman, the huge loss for Russia raises concerns of an escalation in the war

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Deputy head of Russia’s Security Council and chairman of the United Russia party, Dmitry Medvedev, second left, visits Totsk military garrison in the Orenburg region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Dmitry Medvedev, further upped the ante by recently saying that Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine if its aggression poses threat to the Russian statehood.

Ekaterina Shtukina, Associated Press

Ukrainian forces liberated Russia’s stronghold of Lyman this weekend. The eastern Ukraine city was annexed last week by Russia, causing a “humiliating retreat” for the nation’s forces, per NBC News.

Will Russia use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine?

As Russia retreats, it raises concerns of an escalation in the war, leading to the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech in September that Russia would defend its territory “by all means.

“In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff,” Putin said in a speech last week, according to CNN.

Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s region of Chechnya, advised Moscow to take “more drastic measures” after the defeat in Ukraine.

“In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov said, per Reuters.

However, The New York Times reported that American intelligence officials believe the chance of the use of nuclear weapons is low, but has increased since the war began.

How will the U.S. respond if Russia uses nuclear weapons?

President Joe Biden wrote in a guest essay for The New York Times in May that use of nuclear weapons by Russia would “be completely unacceptable” and “would entail severe consequences.”

The U.S. and allies would “take out” Russian troops and equipment in Ukraine if Russia uses nuclear weapons, former CIA director David Petraeus said on Sunday, per The Guardian.

What are tactical nuclear weapons?

Tactical nuclear weapons are weapons used for a limited strike on the battlefield. They are small nuclear warheads that destroy specific targets without radioactive fallout, according to the BBC.

Russia has 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons, which have an explosive yield of 10 to 100 kilotons of dynamite. In comparison Russia’s more destructive nuclear weapons have an explosive yield of 500 to 800 kilotons, per CNN.

Tactical nuclear weapons can be fired from aircrafts or ships and have never been utilized in conflict. The BBC reports that Russia has invested to improve the accuracy and range of its tactical nuclear weapons.