Putin’s nukes ‘of little value as Russia’s economy tanks: Not a great power

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Last week Vladimir Putin triggered concern across the world after he put his nuclear forces on high alert. In response to sanctions imposed on Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian President announced he had placed his nuclear arsenal on a “special combat duty regime”. Just days earlier, he had warned that Western interference with Russia’s invasion would spark consequences “never before experienced in your history”.

Though Putin’s order was vague, it has raised the possibility of Russia firing a short-range nuclear missile at Ukraine or using long-range missiles against the US and Nato allies.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has a nuclear warhead inventory of 5,977, which is the biggest in the world.

In comparison the US has 5,428 nuclear weapons, while France has 290 and the UK 225.

However, an expert claimed that Russia’s nuclear weapons were of “little practical value” if the ruble fell as expected given the West’s financial sanctions.

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Writing in VOX in 2016, two years after Putin had ordered the illegal annexation of Crimea, Mr Galeotti said: “On most objective grounds, Russia is hardly a great power.

“It has nuclear weapons, but ultimately these are of little practical value.

“Continued rearmament depends on money, and Russia’s economy is dependent on oil that is now selling for bargain-basement prices.”

In terms of GDP Russia’s economy is currently the eleventh largest in the world, just between South Korea and Brazil.

Meanwhile in 2021 their military spending was around a tenth of the US’ according to Statista.

Since the invasion of Ukraine the West’s sanctions are also blowing holes in the Russian economy, with world powers having imposed a range of curbs including an asset freeze on the Russian central bank.

On Sunday, the US Secretary of State said the allies were also discussing a ban on Russian exports of crude oil.

This has led to the ruble collapsing, the Moscow stock exchange closing, and Russian oil prices plummeting, while long term there is a realistic prospect of a recession.

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However, what Putin has over his Western rivals is the willingness to take risks, as the President believes “the scarier he seems, the more political traction he has.”

Mr Galeotti added: “What the Kremlin does have is the will to take risks, ignore the rules and hope that the other side is more sensible, more cautious, more willing to make concessions than it is to call Russia’s bluff.

“In the main this has worked so far. But Putin’s bad boy geopolitics and military postures are wasting assets already beginning to prove to be liabilities.

“The Russian defence budget as it stands is unsustainable. Even with the (2016’s 5 percent) cut, the defence budget is bleeding the Kremlin of resources needed for economic diversification and the public services needed to pacify an increasingly disgruntled population.

“Russia has squandered its ‘soft power’, its moral authority in the world, by which it once might have claimed to be an alternative to Western-led order.

“It is now more unpopular than ever.”

Of course, the threat still exists given the Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBs) in Russia’s possession are able to reach and destroy major cities across the world including Washington and London.

The ICBs are able to reach the UK from Russia just 20 minutes after being launched.

Defence expert General Sir Richard Barrons told Sky News: “President Putin has raised the stakes ‒ he’s started to insinuate nuclear weapons at a global level.

“We should understand that the stakes for Ukraine have now become global.

“Essentially by raising the spectre of nuclear weapons the rest of the Western hemisphere is now on the pitch with Ukraine.”

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