CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

In an article published in this journal four years after the first military invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I argued that since Putin came to power in 1999, we had seen a re-evaluation of the role of nuclear weapons. This was particularly evident following the annexation of Crimea, with Russia running military exercises that envisaged the possible rapid use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict. It is also important to note that the concept of “deterrence” has a very broad range of meaning in Russia: it covers the capacity to restrict an opponent’s actions or to contain it, including using conventional weapons and hybrid warfare, but also intimidation, which is more closely linked to the possible use of nuclear weapons. One of the key questions at present concerns the instrumentalization of this doctrine in the context of a conventional high-intensity conflict.
The statements made by President Putin, both before and after the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, have been alarming: he has referred to using nuclear weapons in the event of a threat to the existence of the Russian state (obscuring the identity of the actual aggressor in the region), announced that the country’s nuclear forces are on “special combat readiness” alert, publicized hypersonic missile tests, and warned of a “Third World War.” But such statements are coherent with a strategic continuity that goes back two decades. This strategy—which is not, therefore, a new one—is based on the concept of de-escalation, with one party in a regional conflict escalating the threat to force their opponent to de-escalate…


Russia’s strategy of offensive deterrence in Ukraine aims to deconstruct the democratic European space. In response, this war—which is also a long-term strategic nuclear crisis—should promote among European democracies a new European security architecture that includes a possible common strategy of deterrence.

Dominique Mongin
Dominique Mongin is a historian and teaches at the Centre interdisciplinaire d’études sur le nucléaire et la stratégie (Interdisciplinary Center for Nuclear and Strategic Studies) at the École normale supérieure in Paris. His publications include Histoire de la dissuasion nucléaire depuis la Seconde Guerre mondiale (Paris: Archipoche, 2021).
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