Russia’s nuclear blackmailing has been the primary reason why NATO has not intervened in the Ukraine war. However, the US nuclear deterrence has allowed the West to resist Russia’s nuclear coercion, which has resulted in an unprecedented delivery of military aid to Ukraine.

The US has reacted to Russia’s nuclear coercion by emphasizing its readiness to retaliate if Russia uses nuclear weapons. The war progresses in line with the historical tradition of limited wars where the opposing sides regulate the conflict by issuing threats in a game of nerves.

Russia’s nuclear deterrence strategy is failing because it uses nuclear deterrence for something it is not suited for: as a coercive tool in a protracted war of conquest. As long as such threats can be countered with a threat to retaliate, their credibility is low because the benefits cannot outweigh the costs in the vast majority of circumstances.

The deterrence dynamic still allows more room for manoeuvre for the supporters of Ukraine. The West should increase the military aid delivered to Ukraine with the goal of defeating Russia.

Research Fellow