In the framework of the hybrid war strategy implemented by the Kremlin in the ongoing conflict against Ukraine and, indirectly, against NATO and the West, one of the topics widely used in Putin's propaganda narrative concerns the threat of the use of atomic weapons in a defensive function against the danger represented by the aforementioned "enemies at the gates". Last but not least, the program for the full operation of the RS-28 intercontinental missile Sarmat, SS-30 Satan 2 in NATO designation, by 2024, appears to be well underway.1
To understand what Russia means by the "defensive function" of the use of nuclear power in this context, it may be useful to analyze the article The role of strategic-grade missile units in NATO multi-domain strategic operations,2 written by Lieutenant General IR Fasletdinov and Colonel (retired) VI Lumpov, published in the authoritative magazine Voyennaya Mysl' (“Military Thought”) in March 2023. The premise posed by the two officers is immediately noteworthy:
“In a world overflowing with nuclear weapons and where the warring parties are equipped with reliable missile defense systems, the main and cheapest way to prevent the ultimate destabilization of relations between the parties and the outbreak of conflicts was and is all now the nuclear weapon.”
This statement is enough to understand how all the good intentions regarding the reduction of the nuclear arsenals in the possession of the United States and Russia remain such, regardless of the ongoing war between Moscow and Kiev. Nonetheless, the conflict still resulted in Russia's temporary suspension3 from the treaty new start - the latest in chronological order - which aims to reduce the limit of nuclear warheads set by the previous agreement by 30% SORT (Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty). The Cold War logic prevails:
The analysis of the factors and evolution of the nuclear confrontation, conducted in the course of the thematic case studies, demonstrated the realism and effectiveness of the functioning of the strategic nuclear deterrence mechanism based on a relatively simple and convenient structural and functional organization , implemented and proven effective in the XNUMXth century. The starting conditions for the creation and maintenance of this system were:
A clear and unequivocal bipolarization of the nuclear confrontation;
The presence of a quantity of nuclear weapons sufficient to maintain strategic parity and the presence of an agreement for the limitation of strategic level offensive weapons (START);
The presence of effective anti-missile warning systems (SPRN) on both sides;4
The presence of anti-missile systems, which guarantee coverage of the entire territory (national ndt) and strategic objectives against a sudden mass nuclear attack (MRNA);
The existence of the possibility of early neutralization of nuclear potential for deterrence;
The presence of regulators, in international law, in matters of nuclear weapons, etc.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the activation of the SPRN system, on February 15, 2021 the Russian Ministry of Defense published on its social media a video showing some of the inner workings of one of the structures of early warning which control the arrival of ballistic missiles on Russian territory.5 It looks like the video shows the satellite control panel Serpukhov-15, located in the Kaluga province, about 150 km south-west of Moscow.
Given the context, it is interesting to remember that Kaluga was at the center of one of the most shocking incidents of the Cold War: in 1966 an eighteen-year-old Russian entered the frequencies of a radio station to broadcast the false announcement of the outbreak of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.6 The film also simulates an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attack coming from the United States.
According to the analysis of Dmitry Stefanovich, researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations IMEMO RAS, the simulated attack sequence refers to a single missile launched from the air force base F. E. Warren,Wyoming. For the record, this base is home to the US Air Force's 90th Missile Wing, equipped with LGM-30G intercontinental ballistic missiles Minuteman III.
But let's go back to the present day and focus on a part of the text in question which clarifies, indeed sheds a sinister light, on the paranoid attitude underlying the "Encirclement Syndrome" from which Putin's politics suffer heavily and which has strongly conditioned the choice to proceed with the invasion of Ukraine. Note the relevance of the "hybrid" dimension of contemporary forms of combat, repeatedly evoked by the writers of the article, from their point of view, heritage of US and, more generally, Western military doctrine:
In the XNUMXst century, the mechanisms for achieving strategic nuclear deterrence have changed completely. Objectively, a multipolar system for maintaining peace is being formed in the world which involves the presence of several pronounced nuclear poles. The USA is losing its position as a world leader. The aggressiveness of their attitude towards Russia in the political-military field is growing. The USA has expressed this attitude with its withdrawal from international agreements which are fundamental for guaranteeing strategic and nuclear stability. The US has ceased its participation in ABM agreements7and INF,8 the next step will be the termination of agreements on the limitation of strategic offensive weapons, on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction; the ban on nuclear tests etc. They aim at the reconstruction and modernization of their nuclear forces and related infrastructure, their restructuring in a crisis context. A Global Missile Defense System (HS PRO) has been deployed with advanced regional and maritime batteries that will be integrated with a cosmic system for shooting down strategic targets in space and on the Earth's surface. Work is underway to create and structure the non-nuclear offensive component "The new triad"9 of strategic deterrence of a potential enemy (oriented, ndt) towards China and the Russian Federation, and also the creation of new forces for the conduct of cyber and information warfare operations. The implementation by the American administration of measures for the creation of the “new strategic triad” could lead to a threefold lowering of the “nuclear threshold” and the rapid growth of the threat of the onset of a nuclear conflict. With its own military strategy and concept, the USA and its allies have created an aggressive vector of their foreign policy. With their plans for the growth of their strategic forces, they are working exclusively with an aggressive meaning on the creation of completely new components of the armed forces, promising weapons systems and ways of using them exclusively in an offensive form, as is the case for the concepts of “unity of forces”, “systematic and sudden global bombing”, “net-centric” and “hybrid” operations, “access to areas of operations” etc.
The two Russian officers therefore go so far as to indicate what, in their opinion, represents the main form of military threat that the United States and NATO have conceived and which, therefore, is worthy of the preparation of an adequate form of retaliation (including nuclear) before it manifests itself in all its power: the "multi-domain operations":
A special place in the scope of NATO doctrine, on the initiative and main interest of the USA, is occupied by the development of the concept of "Multi-domain (global) Strategic Operation"... The strategic aspect of multi-domain operations takes inspiration from other concepts such as "Integrated global operations" and "Methods of access to the regions for the conduct of operations", which allow joint forces structures to implement in a very short time, on the basis of American leadership and American units located in different regions of the world, "multi-weapon" groups equipped with very high mobility, which can act effectively in a coordinated manner at different times or in unison in all the locations in which they are located. For this reason, it is necessary that the regions in which these groups are deployed for the conduct of multi-domain operations are as close as possible to the borders of the opposing state, in order to ensure the possibility of covering its entire territory with the military operation at the same time. .
This reasoning allows us to fully grasp the meaning of “enemy at the gates” mentioned at the beginning, attributed by the Kremlin to Ukraine's possible entry into NATO and, in any case, by Putin's paranoia of an invasion that the West would prepare by trying to establish its own starting bases in Ukraine. This, together with "denazification" and the fight against "Western Satan", is one of the favorite themes of Russian propaganda to justify the preventive war unleashed against Kiev.
In the article, then, the authors underline that according to the United States, Russia would be the main obstacle to safeguarding its world domination and, therefore, the main objective of American military policy is the political-military or physical elimination of the inconvenient regime that governs it, but safeguarding the country's resources in terms of territories, raw materials and people. So here it is:
... in the illusory world not equipped with nuclear weapons that they conceived, the USA has returned to using its military strategy which implies an unregulated use of nuclear power to achieve its strategic objectives, but finding itself in a completely new context.
In the idea and plans of the US Military-Political Summit for the initiation and conduct of current large-scale conflicts, the most important role for the defeat (the one necessary for capitulation) of a strong enemy (such as Russia) is assigned, as in the past, to the use of strategic nuclear forces, but only if certain necessary and sufficient conditions are met, such as:
the preventive neutralization of most of the Russian Federation's atomic deterrent potential before the nuclear confrontation begins;
the guarantee of the success of the defense against Russian "nuclear retaliation" through the complete destruction of nuclear carriers both existing and directed against United States objectives (broad meaning which does not concern only US territory, ed.);
The maintenance of economic-military leadership in the world and of a sufficient nuclear potential for deterrence towards countries in possession of atomic weapons that do not participate in the military conflict.
Depending on the technology of "forcible" elimination of the potential main antagonist, the Pentagon foresees:
the establishment and maintenance of an adequate number of groups of both nuclear and conventional offensive and defensive forces, which have operational readiness and capability, and of their preventive support that allows them to be used with success and maximum efficiency;
a sudden and mass attack of the "counterforces" type carried out by conventional forces against conventional (adversary) forces, after having achieved the expected reduction (no less than 65 - 70%) of nuclear forces;
the prevention of the arrival of the nuclear munition planned for nuclear retaliation on the prepared targets, through the destruction with the means of anti-missile systems (not less than 35-40%);
having inflicted a nuclear blow on Russia of a minimum magnitude sufficient to decapitate and neutralize it, with the aim of destroying it, while retaining a nuclear potential sufficient to maintain its strategic supremacy over the other world nuclear powers.
I want to focus on the percentages indicated in brackets in this passage. Taking a look at the blog Russians who currently comment on the articles of the magazine from which the one in question is also taken,10 it is possible to identify conflicting comments on the opportunity to indicate percentages or precise data on the relationship of forces and on the effects on which the Russian defensive strategic doctrine is based. Some argue that it is a way to confuse the attention of Western analysts with numbers. Another interesting comment concerns the presence of a large number of acronyms used in the text, but not explicit; making acronyms and acronyms explicit, at least at the time of first use, is the practice in all texts of a scientific nature, even more so if written by academics. It can therefore be hypothesized that this article is actually part of a larger work, elaborated by the authors themselves, perhaps with the aim of disseminating it in other contexts.
The concept of “hybrid war” returns to the fore in reiterating that the achievement of the set objectives and the implementation of the planned strategy towards Russia is organized by the Pentagon in the form of a global multi-domain strategic operation:
The strategic military scenario of military operations of the NATO bloc, during the conduct of such an operation against the Russian Federation, can be structured according to three periods: preparatory (hybrid activities), conclusive (land military activities) e main (offensive and defensive operations/battles from the third dimension and space).
Starting from this concept, the preparatory period it can be very protracted over time: from a few months up to a year and beyond. Its duration may depend on the actions of the aggressor through the secret implementation and undercover acclimatization in the territory of the Russian Federation of a dense network of agents and diversion groups and the adaptation of this network to local conditions with a view to a subsequent use in the main period (of use of force), as well as the proactive use of soft power that lays the foundations favorable for the subsequent use of military force. Until the arrival of the US Armed Forces for the start of active and large-scale operations, with the use of nuclear strike forces and high-precision and long-range weapons, the formations of special forces located on the territory of the Russian Federation will remain in a "sleeping" mode, with the task of discretely identifying, tracking and constantly being ready to rapidly report the necessary data to the aerospace forces, to allow them to attack the objectives present in the strategically most relevant Russian Federation, scheduled for elimination in the first instance, as part of the multi-domain strategic operation. […]
Il final period will be characterized, most likely, by a series of multi-domain operations by the USA and NATO on the theaters of operations adjacent to the Russian Federation, with the aim of inflicting a definitive defeat on the defending forces, of proceeding with a demilitarisation, a de -sovereignty and political-military submission of Russia to its own will. The Strategic Missile Forces in this period will be engaged mainly with the measures necessary to establish and support the operational capacity of command posts and launch sites for the implementation, upon order of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, of subsequent launches of missiles.
The representation of main period will be of particular interest in researching the roles of strategic missile force locations as major components of Russian strategic deterrent forces in countering US and NATO multi-domain operations. In connection with this stage, the most important task for achieving the main objective of the multi-domain operation, i.e. the physical destruction of the Russian Federation, lies in obtaining supremacy in the air and space domain and liquidating strategic systems of nuclear deterrence of the Russian Federation, through the neutralization of their nuclear potential.
The reaction prefigured by the authors to the characteristic scenario of the "Blitzkrieg victorious” in perspective counterforce of the USA against the Russian Federation can be divided into three peculiar sub-phases:
“defense phase”, which covers the military operations of the United States and Russia during the aggression by the United States by means of a mass bombing and counterforce, according to the procedures of the global sudden bombardment;
"turning stage", is oriented to the military operations of the United States and Russia during the suppression and breakthrough of the US missile shield by the groups of the Russian strategic nuclear forces;
“retaliation phase”, which refers to the military operations of the United States and Russia to exchange nuclear potential with devices that survived the missile defense activity of the parties in the first two phases.
Among leading Russian military experts, there is a widespread opinion that the main deterrent tool against initial and decisive military activities carried out by US and NATO forces in multi-domain operations is the so-called Operation of Strategic Deterrence Forces (OFDS), an activity that can be carried out by all types and components of the armed forces of the Russian Federation that are equipped with offensive weapons (nuclear or otherwise).
In terms of procedures and space-time duration, the OFDS can develop throughout the period of conflict in the third dimension and in cosmic space between the Russian Federation and the USA, for the conquest of military-strategic supremacy following the sudden aggression and on large scale implemented by the United States. For the deployment of strategic forces the OFDS can be divided into three independent phases:
For defense against a sudden and massive attack from the aerospace domain by the enemy;
To suppress the attack assets and cyber guidance systems of the US missile shield throughout the depth of their deployment;
To deliver an atomic retaliatory strike against the aggressor with what is left of the nuclear forces of the Russian Federation.
Considering the specificity of the activities and their sequential development in the period of conflict of the powers in the aerospace domain, the phases of the operation of the strategic deterrent forces should be divided not according to the classical scheme (so-called time-based) which sees the beginning of a phase after the previous one has ended, but rather according to a principle which sees the sequence proceed when the expected results of the previous phase occur (so-called effect based). This procedure allows us to interpret the meaning of the operation and proceed more correctly with its planning and practical implementation, with a definition of the development times of the OFDS adapted to the various phases of use of forces and means. The article specifies that:
To carry out these tasks, which are so different from each other, it seems appropriate to structure three different types of groups of strategic deterrent forces, each with specific use in one phase rather than another. The main role in the preparation, planning and execution of the specific phase falls to the relevant component of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. For example, the group of strategic deterrent forces for the "protection/reaction" phases to the attack from the aerospace domain will be structured on the basis of the VKS,11 which are the pillar of our country's aerospace defense; the group of strategic deterrent forces for the "retaliation" phase, however, will be formed on the basis of strategic level maritime forces, which, being able to generate strategic level missile forces in a more adequate manner in terms of time, precision and power, guarantee a greater probability of survival in the event of massive enemy activity in the aerospace domain.
In any case, strategic-level missile forces would still play an important role in each of the phases of the OFDS. In order to successfully conduct the first phase of the operation, for example, missile units integrated into the groups of strategic deterrent forces can be used for the concentration of fire in the areas of deployment of the adversary's missile groups, its arsenals and bases in which the high precision ammunition reserves are kept, with the aim of reducing the activity capacity as much as possible counterforces opponent. The special forces and reserve units will then have to concentrate their efforts in taking the necessary measures to counter enemy activity in the third dimension and on the ground, in the suppression and neutralization of its interdiction and sabotage formations, in the defense of objectives of its defensive sector, in preparation and reconstitution12 of the operational capacity of the command posts and launch sites, for the subsequent launch of the missiles. In the final phase of the OFDS, the remaining strategic nuclear forces have the task of conducting a missile attack with atomic warheads, as "nuclear retaliation forces", aimed at the main objectives of military and economic interest and at the infrastructures of the aggressor state. It is important to remember that strategic-level missile forces will play a fundamental role to the extent that they are equipped with hypersonic missiles and other weapon systems that can form the basis for the actions of the second phase of the OFDS to break through the US missile shield and for the containment of the destruction of nuclear munitions used to strike strategic targets on US soil. General Fasletdinov and Colonel Lumpov at this point make some interesting considerations:
Taking a look at the strategic situation of the components of the "new strategic triad" of the USA (valid, prospectively, until 2050), their use for the elimination of the atomic deterrence potential of the Russian Federation in the case of growing competition for the role of world leader does not appear possible. This opportunity appears possible only in the case of a sudden counterforce bombardment with atomic weapons, with a bombardment carried out by strategic missile forces or by the missile shield. The possibility that the USA liquidates its main competitor in the world arena with an action of military force can only occur if it reaches a sufficiently acceptable level of strategic potential and through a complex and simultaneous use of the three platforms of strategic importance (of the triad, ndt) mentioned above, with maximum effectiveness. That is, in the event of failure of the functioning of just one of the platforms mentioned, the USA would find itself forced to renounce a nuclear attack against the Russian Federation and this means that the Strategic Deterrence Forces of the Russian Federation have a further margin of deterrence in against the aggressor already in the pre-nuclear period.
Note how the speech shifts attention from the "nuclear" phase to the actions to be undertaken in the phase of "conventional" clashes and, therefore, how the elements of the "strategic triad" become high value targets absolutely priorities for the information research activity and for the consequent targeting.
They then continue:
Therefore, the main means of countering aggressive attempts made by the Pentagon against the Russian Federation through multi-domain operations is considered by Russian military specialists to be the operation of strategic deterrent forces. To achieve the main strategic objectives for the neutralization of the aggressor, the OFDS requires the use of the most cutting-edge nuclear and non-nuclear strategic attack and defense weapons and the study of the most innovative military technologies in order to achieve of the following tasks:
reacting to US-NATO aggression from the aerospace dimension by employing global strategic bombing and preventing the loss of Russian deterrence potential in deployment areas above acceptable thresholds;
the suppression of the US missile shield system, avoiding losses, above the acceptable threshold, of Russian strategic munitions in the aerospace dimension;
the use of surviving atomic warheads towards the strategic objectives and territory of the aggressor, aimed at causing unacceptable damage to him.
To ensure effective strategic deterrence from sudden aggression by aerospace means by a potential attacker, under the conditions dictated by existing limitation treaties,13 It would no longer be sufficient for Russia to create and maintain in the indispensable conditions of operational readiness a group of nuclear-type Strategic Level Missile Forces sufficiently massive in quantity, capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on the aggressor with its response.
The authors emphasize that Russian strategic-level strike forces will be capable of ensuring effective deterrence against US nuclear missile aggression only under the condition that there is a minimum level of equal strategic capabilities between the parties and that conditions exist that convince the leadership US military-political:
of the impossibility of launching an attack which, with the system of preventive global strategic bombing counterforce, is capable of causing damage to Russia's strategic nuclear forces in excess of the acceptable critical level;
of the inability of a total elimination of nuclear charges that survived the action of global strategic bombing with the means of the anti-missile shield and, consequently, of the possibility of a nuclear response action by the Russian Federation that hits the objectives and territory of the States United;
of the inevitability of suffering unacceptable damage in any scenario of nuclear aggression.
In the thoughts of the two Russian officers, based on the prospects of evolution of the strategic situation and consequently of the transformation of the Pentagon's opinions on the start of a total nuclear war for world domination, the leadership military politician of the Russian Federation has the concrete possibility of discouraging this type of attack against his own country. This possibility is based on the aggressor's belief in the impossibility of taking away Russia's nuclear potential in the phases of using global strategic bombing and the strategic missile shield without directly "stumbling upon" the strategic nuclear potential. We are perfectly in line with the Russian principle of cross-domain coercion, peculiar to hybrid warfare or new generation warfare according to the current Russian model.14
To this end, a new attitude is essential which underlies the coordinated use of all the capabilities of the components of the strategic deterrent forces of the Russian Federation. The apparatus of strategic deterrent forces available to the Kremlin, to demonstrate its completeness, capacity and readiness, may include:
a core group of strategic nuclear forces intended for nuclear reaction;
a group of covering forces towards enemy attacks from the aerospace dimension, intended for preventive defense against massive bombing counterforces;
a group of strategic attack forces for the disruption of the opponent's missile defense system, intended for the suppression of radio-electronic equipment and the neutralization of the elements that make up the enemy missile shield.
Finally, again according to the two military experts, the creation on the basis of strategic level missile forces, of pre-nuclear deterrence subsystems capable of convincing the adversary of the impossibility of causing losses beyond the critical level in the device of strategic nuclear forces Russian, requires:
the formation among the ranks of the strategic missile forces of so-called "breakthrough" units, which allow them to react to strategic nuclear bombing by managing to cause critical damage to the devices that constitute the US anti-missile defense;
the choice and definition of the structure and characteristics in terms of the use of these units for deterrence and combat;
the solution of issues relating to the support of these units and planning for the development of their operational capacity, organizational structure and different operating regimes;
the development of the various deterrence measures, characteristics of the functioning of this innovative technical-organisational system, their implementation and the declaration of their full functionality.
In light of the current situation, with the "dead anger" that agitates Moscow and that it sees in the United States and the West, with particular acrimony towards the United Kingdom,15 a danger that must absolutely be eradicated for the survival of Russia itself, one wonders whether the repeated threat of resorting to nuclear weapons proclaimed by Putin right from the start of the invasion war carried out in Ukraine is plausible or, rather, whether it is now a worn out propaganda (however desirable) disseminated within the framework of the techniques of cross-domain coercion aforementioned.
I was recently in Tel Aviv for a conference on "hybrid warfare" and I had the opportunity to exchange some interesting opinions on the subject with a Slovakian military analyst, who was also attending the conference. We both agreed that the use of strategic weapons would mark the countdown towards the extinction of the human race and, therefore, it does not yet appear among the options contemplated by the Kremlin. Even the tactical weapon, although we always try to smuggle it as a solution with acceptable outcomes due to the relative limits of the effects in time and space, would represent a point of no return.
The situation is different with regards to the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant which, in a moment of desperation, could be blown up, perhaps trying to attribute responsibility for the crazy gesture to Kiev's troops. On the other hand, they have already tried it with the Kakhovka dam. The Russians take refuge behind the assertion that the atomic bomb has already been used in the past and, therefore, there is a precedent that would justify its reuse. I say that, for this very reason, they should have learned something from history, precisely the inadvisability of resorting to such last resort. In any case, if we see that Moscow's soldiers abandon the area of the nuclear power plant, or begin to buzz around us in protective suits and anti-NBC masks, we begin to worry.
1 D. Secci, The Sarmat Missile Mystery and Its Possible Implications for the New St. Treatyart, Online Defense, 06/09/2023. https://www.difesaonline.it/mondo-militare/il-mistero-del-missile-sarmat....
2 IR Fasletdinov - VI Lumpov, Роль Ракетных Войск Стратегического Назначения В Противодействи и Стратегической Многосферной Операции Нато (The role of strategic-grade missile units in NATO multi-domain strategic operations), Voyennaya Mysl' n.3-2023, 25/03/2023. https://vm.ric.mil.ru/Stati/item/479810/.
4System preduprezhdeniya or raketnom napadenii.
5 T. Newdick, Take A Rare Look Inside Russia's Doomsday Ballistic Missile Warning System, The Warzone, 16/02/2021. https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/39264/take-a-look-inside-russias-d....
6Soviet “Pirate Radios” Spark Government Ire, The Milwaukee Journal, 29/09/1966.
7Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
8Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
9 In the doctrine of the Russian Federation, the term “Nuclear Triad” means the presence in the deterrence forces based on three types of platforms for the delivery of nuclear potential: land-based, submarine and airborne. The term "New Triad" refers to the US renewal program of the platforms in question with land launch systems for intercontinental missiles Minuteman IV, with submarines of the type Columbia for the missiles of Trident-2 and with strategic nuclear bombers B-21 Reider (B-3).
11 Le Vozdušno-kosmičeskie sily they constitute the aerospace division of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, established in 2015 by ministerial decree by the merger of the Air Force with the Aerospace Defense Forces and the Space Forces of the country.
12 “Preparation” for Command Posts that have resisted the enemy attack. “Reconstitution” for those who have suffered a reduction in operational capacity.
13 The reference is to the international treaties for the limitation of nuclear arsenals.
14 N. Cristadoro, The Gerasimov Doctrine. The philosophy of unconventional warfare in contemporary Russian strategy, Il Maglio Editore, Solarussa (OR), 2022.
15Moscow: “Attack on Crimean bridge led by US and UK”, Ansa, 17/07/2023. https://www.ansa.it/sito/notizie/mondo/europa/2023/07/17/ucraina-esplosi....
Photo: Russian Federation MoD