An order by Vladimir Putin to strike Ukraine or the West with nuclear weapons would be ignored by his top commanders, a senior investigative journalist has said.
Many leading military and security officials as well as oligarch cronies believe Putin to be dying or gravely ill, said Christo Grozev, who is an expert on Russian affairs and is associated with the Bellingcat open source research group.
Believing that Putin could soon die, his inner circle would not risk being hauled before a modern equivalent of the Nuremberg trials for unleashing Armageddon, nor would they obey a Putin order to kill opposition foes, Mr Grozev claimed.
The Russian president placed Moscow’s nuclear forces on high alert shortly after his invasion of Ukraine began February 24, raising fears he could press the button as the war in Ukraine continues to go against him.
And amid increasing Western support to Ukraine, Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian military doctrine holds can be used to force an adversary to retreat.
Meanwhile, Russia has increasingly resorted to nuclear sabre-rattling as the war in Ukraine has stumbled, with state media last week issuing near-daily threats – including one to wipe out the UK and Ireland with a ‘nuclear tidal wave’.
Pictured: Putin is shown clinging to his desk as he holds a meeting with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu. An order by Putin to strike Ukraine or the West with nuclear weapons will not be obeyed by his top commanders, a senior investigative journalist has said, amid fears amongst his inner circle that he is gravely unwell
Pictured: A test launch of the Satan II hypersonic nuclear warhead-carrying missile. The Russian president placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert shortly after its invasion of Ukraine began February 24, raising fears he could press the button as the war in Ukraine continues to go against him
Russia has increasingly resorted to nuclear sabre-rattling as the war in Ukraine has stumbled, with state media last week issuing near-daily threats. Pictured: Russian state TV channel Russia-1 shows a graphic, threatening to cause a ‘nuclear tidal wave’ to destroy Britain
On reports that Putin’s health is in decline, TV interviewer Dmitry Gordon asked Mr Grozev: ‘We watch [Putin] spasmodically clutching the corner of the table with his right arm during a meeting with [Defence Minister Sergei] Shoigu.
‘And his jacket being too high and tight around his neck, his stumbling, limping gait… Is he sick, or do we just so much want him to be sick?’
Grozev replied: ‘I can’t speak without information, but we know that oligarchs from his closest circle claim [that Putin is ill].
‘We also know that the Lubyanka [FSB secret service] sent a letter about a month ago to all regional FSB chiefs. It said: “If you hear about him having a very serious illness, we insist you do not pay attention”.
‘So they all thought this means the exact opposite.’
Christo Grozev, an expert on Russian affairs associated with the Bellingcat open source research group, has said Putin’s commanders are unlikely to follow an order to launch nuclear strikes from their leader
Grozev said: ‘So I think it doesn’t matter that much if he is dying or gravely ill, what matters is people around him think so. This changes the formula, this is a factor in deciding just how loyal people feel they should be to him.
‘I believe this factor – that people close to him think that he is not all right health-wise – diminishes the risk of them obeying his order to kill foes, like they did in the past.
‘The same reason makes it unlikely that someone will press the nuclear button, with the understanding that if he is gone in three or six months, who will protect them from a trial in Nuremberg?’
Mr Grozev’s comments came after Russia carried out simulated launches of nuclear-capable missiles from an enclave of territory in mainland Europe on Thursday.
War games currently taking place in Kaliningrad – a chunk of Russian territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea – involved ‘electronic launches’ of Iskander ballistic missiles, Moscow’s defence ministry said.
Iskander crews practised hitting targets including enemy missile systems, airfields, infrastructure and military command posts, the ministry added, before manoeuvering to avoid a retaliatory strike.
The drills did not involve any actual missiles being fired.
The drills came after a Russian TV war reporter claimed on Tuesday that Putin would soon have no ‘no way back’ but to unleash nuclear weapons on Ukraine.
Russia carried out simulated launches of nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad on Wednesday, the defence ministry said (file image)
Alexander Sladkov advocated dropping an atomic bomb to cause ‘a crater the size of several regions’ to intimidate NATO.
Russia has claimed the goal of its military campaign in Ukraine is to ‘liberate’ it from the control of supposed ‘neoNazis’ – despite Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish and far-right politicians receiving little support in the country.
But Sladkov – described as a war reporter and ‘propagandist’ – told his 730,000 followers the time may be approaching for the ‘last resort’ due to some 40 countries arming Ukraine with weapons which are being used against the Russians.
‘There is more and more talk about nuclear weapons, and Russia has much to say about it,’ Sladkov posted. ‘We have a solution for Ukraine.
‘There are several, yet we are getting reminded about the last resort – nuclear weapons. If no-one is going to hear us, and 40 countries keep helping the Ukrainian neoNazis, we will have no way back.’
He continued: ‘The Americans used nuclear weapons in Japan, in a demonstrative way. So us, Russians, will have to demonstratively do it in Ukraine to remove the issue with further confrontation with those known 40 countries.
Russian propagandist Alexander Sladkov advocated dropping an atomic bomb to cause ‘a crater the size of several regions’ in a ‘demonstrative way’ to intimidate NATO
‘A crater the size of several regions will be a clear example of how serious is Russia’s appeal to NATO to get back to peace and harmony. But where will Ukraine go?
‘Exactly where it’s heading right now, with the only difference that it’ll be fast, and cheaper for Russia. The Europeans and Americans can’t quite get it that one must not harass a neighbouring country with such a giant nuclear potential.
‘Thinking about it, I remember just how easily the US used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how easily they nearly deployed them at Dien Bien Phu in 1954,’ he said – referring to a US plan in the Vietnam War to launch a nuclear strike in order to help rescue French forces trapped in the city.
Sladkov warned: ‘Everything is possible, and this is what the Americans teach us. And we are learning. Not that any of this will make it easier for Ukraine.’
Since the war broke out, propagandists on Russian state TV have been sabre-rattling on a near-nightly basis, backing Putin to use extreme force against Ukraine.
On Sunday night, Russian state media urged Putin to wipe Great Britain off the map with a nuclear-bomb triggered giant tidal wave.
Dmitry Kiselyov, known as ‘Putin’s mouthpiece’, used his show to call for attacks on Britain with a Poseidon underwater drone that he said would trigger a 1,600ft radioactive tidal wave and ‘plunge Britain to the depths of the ocean.’
And last week, Russian state TV has brazenly simulated how Putin would launch a nuclear strike on three capital cities in Europe, declaring there would be ‘no survivors’, in response to comments made by the UK’s Armed Forces Minister supporting Ukrainian strikes on Russian infrastructure.
Last week, Russian state TV has brazenly simulated how Putin would launch a nuclear strike on three capital cities in Europe, declaring there would be ‘no survivors’
Last month, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Russia was not considering using nuclear weapons ‘at this stage’ of its invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview in which he parroted Putin’s propaganda over Moscow’s brutal military actions, Lavrov blamed the US, the West and NATO expansion for his country’s so-called ‘special operation’.
When asked by India Today whether Russia had any intention of using nuclear weapons, Lavrov said: ‘At this stage, we are considering the option of conventional weapons only,’ according to Russia’s RIA state news agency.
Lavrov, a long-time Kremlin mouthpiece and staunch ally of Putin, said in late January that Russia would not invade its neighbour. On February 24, less a month after his comments, Putin ordered Moscow’s troops into Ukraine.
Days after, Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, and threatened NATO allies with ‘consequences greater than any you have faced in history’ should they intervene in the Ukraine conflict.
This raised fears that the Russian leader would be prepared to use nuclear weapons in the conflict, something no country has done since the Second World War.
Sladkov’s comments were contrasted by Russian journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, who on Tuesday decried Russian propaganda arguing for using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, warning that would signal ‘the end of humanity’.
‘I would not rule out the possibility that nuclear weapons might be used,’ Muratov told journalists in Geneva, speaking through a translator.
Russian journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov on Tuesday decried Russian propaganda arguing for using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, warning that would signal ‘the end of humanity’. Pictured: Muratov speaks in Geneva on May 3, 2022
Speaking at an event marking the World Press Freedom Day, Muratov, whose own Novaya Gazata newspaper has been forced to suspend publication amid Moscow’s military intervention, warned that the Kremlin’s ‘propaganda warriors’ were striving to make nuclear weapons use more palatable to the Russian public.
‘For two weeks now, we have been hearing from our television screens that nuclear silos should be opened,’ he said.
‘And we also hear that these horrible weapons should be used should the supplies of weapons to Ukraine continue,’ he said, referring to the push by the United States, the European Union and others to arm the war-torn country.
Contrary to the propaganda narrative, deploying such weapons would ‘not be the end of the war,’ he warned. ‘This will be the end of humanity.’
He said the most frightening thing in Russia today is that Putin has acquired ‘unrestricted, absolute power.’
If he decides nuclear weapons should be used, Muratov said, ‘nobody can possibly stop this decision from being taken, … not parliament, not civil society, not the public.’