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Putin floats possibility that Russia may abandon doctrine of “no first use” of nuclear weapons

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on December 9.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on December 9. (Sergei Bobylyob/AFP/Getty Images)

For the second time this week, President Vladimir Putin has floated the possibility that Russia may formally change its current doctrine that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. 

Putin noted that United States’ policy was not to exclude the possibility of a “disarming” nuclear strike. 

“They have it in their strategy, in the documents it is spelled out – a preventive blow. We don’t. We, on the other hand, have formulated a retaliatory strike in our strategy,” Putin said.

Even if Russia were to retaliate immediately on seeing the launch of nuclear missiles towards it, Putin said, “This means that the fall of the warheads of enemy missiles on the territory of the Russian Federation is inevitable – they will still fall.” 

“So if we’re talking about this disarming strike, then maybe think about adopting the best practices of our American partners and their ideas for ensuring their security. We’re just thinking about it. No one was shy when they talked about it out loud in previous times and years,” he added. “If a potential adversary believes it is possible to use the theory of a preventive strike, and we do not, then this still makes us think about those threats that are posed to us.” 

Putin was speaking at a news conference in Bishkek. He described the preemptive nuclear strike as “applied to the control points, deprive the enemy of these control systems and so on,” implying that it could even prevent a retaliatory strike. 

Some background: On Wednesday, Putin acknowledged that the conflict is “going to take a while,” as he also warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war.

“As for the idea that Russia wouldn’t use such weapons first under any circumstances, then it means we wouldn’t be able to be the second to use them either — because the possibility to do so in case of an attack on our territory would be very limited,” he said Wednesday.

Putin’s comments come as the war enters winter, with Russia continuing to shell eastern and southern parts of Ukraine – and facing attacks on its own soil.

Biden administration officials have previously said that Moscow has been warned at the highest levels of the consequences for use of nuclear weapon in the war.