Russian President Vladimir Putin is too “scared” to use nuclear weapons in his war with Ukraine, an email featuring a letter from a whistleblower at Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reveals.
The email, which has been shared with Newsweek, is dated March 4. It is the first such dispatch sent by the agent, dubbed the Wind of Change, to Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian human rights activist who runs the anti-corruption website Gulagu.net, and is now exiled in France.
The FSB agent writes regular dispatches to Osechkin, revealing the anger and discontent inside the service over the war that began when Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24.
Igor Sushko, the executive director of the Wind of Change Research Group, a Washington-based non-profit organization, has been translating the correspondence from Russian to English since it began. He has shared all the emails in full with Newsweek.
The letter was analyzed by Christo Grozev, an expert on the FSB, on March 6. He said he had shown it “to two actual (current or former) FSB contacts” who had “no doubt it was written by a colleague.”
Will Putin Push The Red Button?
The March 4 email delves into whether the whistleblower believes, based on FSB insights, that Putin would be prepared to order a nuclear strike in his war with Ukraine that would “destroy the entire world.”
It was published just days after the war began, and months before Putin threatened that Russia was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its “territorial integrity.” U.S. President Joe Biden said on October 6 that the risk of a nuclear “Armageddon” is at its highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many feared a nuclear war might be imminent.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that Washington and Moscow have held talks aimed at toning down rhetoric around Russia’s potential use of nuclear weapons and talk of nuclear strikes has been less noticeable in recent weeks.
The whistleblower suggested that “there a possibility of a localized nuclear strike” but not for any military objectives.
“Such a weapon won’t help with the breach of the defenses. But with a goal of scaring 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.
Kremlin’s Chain of Command
The Wind of Change suggested that a chain of command within the Kremlin would block Putin should he ever attempt to order a nuclear strike.
“I don’t believe that Putin will press the red button to destroy the entire world. First, it’s not one person that decides, and someone will refuse. There are lots of people there and there is no single ‘red’ button,'” the whistleblower wrote.
Putin’s Nuclear Arsenal
The agent also said there are concerns within the FSB about the effectiveness of Russia’s nuclear weapons.
“Second, there are certain doubts that [Russia’s nuclear arsenal] actually functions properly,” they wrote. “Experience shows that the more transparent the control procedures, the easier it is to identify problems.”
“And where it’s murky as to who controls what and how, but always reports full of bravado, is where there are always problems. I am not sure that the ‘red button’ system functions according to the declared data. Besides, plutonium fuel must be changed every 10 years.”
Putin’s ‘Fear of Death’
According to the FSB agent, Putin’s fear of death will ultimately prevent him from pushing the “red button.”
“Third, and this is the most disgusting and sad, I personally do not believe in Putin’s will to sacrifice himself when he does not even allow his closest ministers and advisers to be in his vicinity,” they wrote.
“Whether it’s due to his fear of COVID or a possible assassination is irrelevant. If you are scared for the most trusted people to be near you, then how could you possibly choose to destroy yourself and those dearest to you.”
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.
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