US officials have issued a warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to increase the Kremlin's arsenal of long-range nuclear-capable missiles as a means of deterring Kyiv and its powerful Western allies.
The warning comes as Russia continues its year-long fight in Ukraine and Putin threatens to withdraw from a key nuclear arms treaty. According to the US intelligence community's annual threat report, Moscow views its nuclear capabilities as necessary for maintaining deterrence and achieving its goals in a potential conflict against the US and NATO, and sees its nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of the Russian Federation.
As a result of significant battlefield losses and punishing rounds of sanctions, Moscow will become more dependent on nuclear weapons. Heavy losses to its ground forces and the large-scale expenditures of precision-guided munitions during the conflict have degraded Moscow’s ground and air-based conventional capabilities and increased its reliance on nuclear weapons.
Putin, whose country boasts the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world, has previously threatened to use them in response to Ukrainian advances on the battlefield. The West has described Putin's threats as "irresponsible" and an attempt to reassert Russia's dominance in the region.
Last month, Putin announced he would suspend participation in the New START treaty, a crucial nuclear arms reduction agreement. The intelligence community warns that Russia's military is unlikely to make major territorial gains this year, which could present an opportunity for additional nuclear threats.
The intelligence chiefs also noted that the Russian military will continue to face personnel shortages, logistical setbacks, and morale challenges. As the US intelligence community continues to monitor Russia's nuclear threats, the situation in Ukraine remains precarious, with the potential for further escalation and increased risk of nuclear conflict.