FT: Leaked files reveal Russian military's criteria for nuclear strike

Leaked military documents outline Russia's doctrine for tactical nuclear weapons use, including the minimum criteria for using tactical nuclear weapons, the Financial Times (FT) reported on Feb. 28.

Russia's tactical nuclear weapons are designed for use on the battlefield in Europe and Asia, and have a more limited range compared to strategic nuclear weapons, which could reach the U.S.

The 29 Russian military files, which date from between 2008 and 2014, indicate a threshold "lower than Russia has ever publicly admitted, according to experts who reviewed and verified the documents," the FT said.

The criteria range "from an enemy incursion on Russian territory to more specific triggers, such as the destruction of 20% of Russia's strategic ballistic missile submarines," the FT said.

The destruction of three or more large surface warships, three airfields, 30% of its nuclear-powered attack submarines, or a "simultaneous hit on main and reserve coastal command centers" are also listed as potential conditions for a nuclear strike.

The documents also indicate a distrust of China, despite growing ties between Moscow and Beijing. Training materials indicate that Russia's eastern military district conducted exercises that envisaged a hypothetical attack by China.

Moscow may fear that Beijing could take advantage of its military focus toward the West, and launch an attack across the border to gain territory in Russia's Far East, the FT said.

The FT highlighted that Russia continues to conduct military exercises near China, holding exercises in June and November 2023 in regions bordering China using nuclear-capable missiles.

William Alberque, director of strategy, technology, and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the FT that Russia likely has a higher threshold for using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine due to fears it would likely "escalate the conflict and lead to direct intervention by the U.S. or U.K."

Read also: Belarus Weekly: Belarus amends military doctrine, permits use of nuclear weapons

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