Putin Nuclear Threats Are Bluff to Scare West From Ukraine: Latvia

  • Putin threatened that Russia would use nuclear weapons.
  • The world is debating how seriously to take his threat.
  • Russia neighbor Latvia’s defense minister said it’s a bluff to scare the West from supporting Ukraine.

Russia is bluffing with its new threats to use nuclear weapons, and is claiming that it will use them to try and scare the West away from supporting of Ukraine, Latvia’s defense minister told Insider.

Putin threatened last week to use nuclear tactical weapons in Ukraine as he announced more troops for his invasion, leading to questions over whether or not he is seriously considering launching weapons of mass destruction.

Artis Pabriks, who is in charge of defence matters for the strategically important EU nation, told Insider that he believes Putin isn’t serious, but that the threat is part of his plan for trying to win in Ukraine.

“In my view he is bluffing. He is bluffing because he is checking the Western resilience, he wants the West to blink and retreat.”

Latvia, a neighbor of Russia and a former member of the Soviet Union, has, like Russia’s other neighbors, repeatedly warned that Russia’s tactics are to exhaust the West — including through high energy prices — in the hope that it gives up supporting Ukraine.

A map showing the border between Latvia and Russia.

A map showing the border between Latvia and Russia.

Google Maps/Insider

Latvia, which has given the second-highest level of financial support to Ukraine by GDP of all countries, has said it won’t waver.

Pabriks also said that the use of nuclear weapons would not actually help Russia win in Ukraine by itself, given how Russia’s military has struggled.

“Russians are not stupid. They know that using some nuclear weapons in Ukraine, that would not solve their problems.”

Pabriks said he ultimately doesn’t believe the strategy would help Putin, as ultimately using nuclear weapons would not actually convince other countries to stop their support for Ukraine.

“I don’t believe that he would use nuclear weapons because that would not bring him to his goal.”

A woman collects wood for heating from a destroyed school where Russian forces were based in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine on September 19, 2022

A woman collects wood for heating from a destroyed school where Russian forces were based in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022

AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

The weapons, he said, “can only persuade other world countries to step up support for Ukraine.”

He said he believes that is the only correct response countries could have: “That is the only outcome because we have no other way how to stop a madman who would use nuclear weapons in the 21st century against a neighboring, peaceful country. How can we tolerate that?”

Pabriks said Putin’s entire plan, which includes mobilizing reserve forces and holding sham “referendums” in occupied Ukraine, is designed to scare the West away.

“The major idea behind all this is actually to try to show to the West that the West must back up and retreat with its assistance to Ukraine.”

Will Putin actually use nuclear weapons?

Putin in his announcement specifically said “This is not a bluff.” But opinions vary over what he will actually do.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US had to take the threat seriously as it was “the possible use of nuclear weapons for the first time since the second world war.”

He said the US is publicly and privately warning Russia against their use, and said Russia will face “catastrophic consequences” if any are used.

Putin address

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks from Moscow on September 21, 2022, when he announced more troops for Ukraine and made a nuclear threat.

Russian Presidential Press Service via AP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that Russia using nuclear weapons “could be a reality.”

Some experts said earlier in the war that they were skeptical Russia would use its nuclear deterrent, even if it made threats to do so.

Putin made veiled threats to using nuclear weapons earlier in the year. 

And one of his close allies said in April that Russia may move nuclear weapons close to Baltic countries, which include Latvia, if Sweden and Finland joined NATO.

They have officially applied to do so since, and Russia has not retaliated.