Russian President Vladimir Putin is too “afraid” to use nuclear weapons in his war with Ukraine, according to an email containing a letter from a whistleblower from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
The email, which was shared with News Weekdates from March 4. It is the first such message the agent, dubbed the Wind of Change, has sent to Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian human rights activist who runs the anti-corruption website Gulagu.net, now in exile in France.
The FSB agent regularly writes messages to Osechkin, revealing the agency’s anger and discontent over the war that began when Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24.
Igor Sushko, executive director of the Wind of Change Research Group, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, has been translating the correspondence from Russian to English from the start. He has sread all emails full with it News Week.
The letter was analyzed on March 6 by Christo Grozev, an FSB expert said he had shown it “to two real (current or former) FSB contacts” who were “undoubtedly written by a colleague.”
Will Putin hit the red button?
The March 4 email explores whether the whistleblower believes, based on FSB insights, that Putin would be willing to order a nuclear strike in his war with Ukraine that would “destroy the whole world.”
It was published just days after the war began and months before Putin threatened that Russia was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend its “territorial integrity.” US President Joe Biden said on Oct. 6 that the risk of a nuclear “Armageddon” is at its highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when many feared nuclear war.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington and Moscow have held talks to tone down rhetoric around Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons and that talk of nuclear strikes has become less noticeable in recent weeks.
The whistleblower suggested that “there is a possibility of a local nuclear attack”, but not for military purposes.
“Such a weapon will not help in breaking through the defenses. But with the aim of frightening everyone else (the West),” they wrote.
The March 4 letter also details three reasons why the FSB agent believes Putin will not use nuclear weapons.
The Kremlin’s chain of command
The Wind of Change suggested that a chain of command within the Kremlin would block Putin if he ever attempted to order a nuclear strike.
“I don’t believe that Putin will push the red button to destroy the whole world. First of all, it’s not one person who decides, and someone will refuse. There are a lot of people there and there isn’t a single ‘red button’. ‘ the whistleblower writes.
Putin’s nuclear arsenal
The agent also said that there are concerns within the FSB about the effectiveness of Russian nuclear weapons.
“Second, there are certain doubts that [Russia’s nuclear arsenal] actually functions properly,” they wrote. “Experience shows that the more transparent the audit procedures, the easier it is to identify problems.”
“And where it is obscure who controls what and how, but always reports with bravura, there are always problems. I’m not sure if the ‘red button’ system works according to the data given. In addition, plutonium fuel has to be changed every 10 years. “
Putin’s ‘fear of death’
According to the FSB agent, Putin’s fear of death will eventually prevent him from pressing the “red button”.
“Third, and this is the most disgusting and sad part, I personally do not believe in Putin’s will to sacrifice himself if he does not even allow his closest ministers and advisers to be near him,” they wrote.
“Whether it’s because of his fear of COVID or a possible murder doesn’t matter. If you’re afraid that the most trusted people are around you, how on earth can you choose to protect yourself and your loved ones? to destroy.”
News Week has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.
Got a tip on a world news story that News Week should cover? Do you have a question about the war between Russia and Ukraine? Let us know at [email protected]