Ukraine conflict: What are the nuclear threats?

On Sunday, President Putin bought his military to move Russia's "deterrent forces" - that include nuclear weapons - to a "special mode of combat duty". But exactly what does that indicate?

It is not completely clear, Western experts say. UK officials state that the language Putin used did not quite in shape with their understanding of the alert levels for Russian nuclear weapons.Some think Putin was purchasing a move from the most affordable alert level, "consistent", to the next level up, "raised", (with "military threat" and "complete" still above) but that was not certain. Each relocation increases preparedness for weapons to be utilized.

Numerous though have translated the relocation mainly as a form of public signalling, instead of suggesting a real intent to utilize such weapons, which Putin knows will bring nuclear retaliation by the West. UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has actually indicated that he believes the statement was mostly "rhetoric".That does not indicate there are no dangers and the circumstance is most likely to be watched carefully.

Was it a new warning?

Recently, Putin had actually warned in more coded language that if other nations hindered Russia's plans they would face effects the "like of which they have actually never ever seen". That was extensively interpreted as a warning for Nato not to become straight militarily associated with Ukraine.Nato has actually always been clear it will not do that, knowing it could trigger direct conflict with Russia which could intensify into nuclear war. Sunday's warning was more direct and public.

Why the new caution?

Putin stated the move remained in response to "aggressive declarations". On Monday, the Kremlin said this referred to statements by Western authorities, consisting of UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, about possible clashes and fights with Nato. Western authorities also think the new caution has come because Putin might have miscalculated over Ukraine.

He may have underestimated just how much resistance he would face on the battlefield in Ukraine. And he undervalued how far the West would unite in a tough response with sanctions. That has left him reaching for new choices and tougher talk.

" This is a sign of anger, aggravation and disappointment," one just recently retired British general told me.

The US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield recommended this language belongs to Putin's effort to validate the war in Ukraine by claiming it is not an aggressor but the one under threat and seeking to defend itself.

Seen in this way, the nuclear alert is a way of emphasising this message to his own people. Another way of seeing it is that Putin is worried about Western plans to supply military assistance to the Ukrainians and wants to alert them about refraining from doing too much.

Another is that he is concerned sanctions, which he referenced in his announcement, are developed to trigger unrest and topple his government. But the total message seems to be a warning to Nato that if it ends up being directly included occasions could escalate.

What are the risks?

Even if Putin's danger is suggested as a warning rather than signalling any existing desire to use the weapons, there is always the danger of mistake if one side misinterprets the other or events get out of hand.

A concern is that Putin has become isolated and out of touch, with few of his advisors going to inform him the truth. Some fear his judgement is becoming erratic. Some hope though that if he did go too far, others further down the pecking order may not want to perform orders. The risks of any nuclear dispute may have increased a little but they still remain low.

How is the West reacting?

So far, Western federal governments have taken care not to further escalate either rhetoric or the action. The United States military has its own defence readiness alert status known as Defcon, and today White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there was "no factor to change" its nuclear alert levels at the minute.

The UK has nuclear armed submarines at sea and is also not likely to say anything openly. The objective appears to be to deal with the Russian declaration as bluster and not increase stress by appearing to take it too seriously or take any actions which may trigger a Russian response.

This is not presently a nuclear crisis and it must not become one, Western security authorities state.

Will the West know what Russia is doing?

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace informed the BBC that the UK had actually not seen any change yet in the actual posture of Russia's nuclear weapons. That will be watched carefully, intelligence sources verify.

During the Cold War, a huge intelligence device was produced in the West to watch Moscow's nuclear toolbox. Satellites, obstructed communications and other sources were evaluated to look for any indications of changes in behaviour - like preparing weapons or crews for bombers - that would offer caution.

Much of that stays in place and the West will be now watching Russian activity carefully to comprehend if there is going to be any substantial modification in behaviour. There has been no indication, up until now.

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