Vladimir Putin will not give the order to launch his nuclear weapons because he knows it won’t be followed by his officials, according to an expert.
The Russian leader made a dark threat of “consequences greater than any in history” for Western powers that support Ukraine but it is believed that Russia will never use its nuclear weapons.
Christo Grozev, from specialist news group Bellingcat, told the BBC that Putin won't give the order to engage with nuclear weapons because he is aware of a large number of officials unwilling to follow this command.
He told the BBC’s Ukrainian news channel: ”Putin won't issue an order to use nuclear weapons if he is not sure that the order will be carried out. In recent weeks, it has been argued that a large number of officers aren't ready to carry out such orders.
“The fact that he will doubt will reduce the risk that he will make such a decision," he said.
A mutiny on that scale could be fatal for Putin's "strongman" reputation.
Russia’s invasion force has already rumoured to have been splintered by desertion and outright mutiny. Last week, around 60 Russian paratroopers staged a mutiny and refused to fight against Ukrainian forces.
In a separate case, a Russian commander was deliberately run over with a tank – and in some reports killed – in revenge for the “scale of losses that had been taken by his brigade”.
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And the mutinies aren’t confined to land. According to former Ukrainian diplomat Olexander Scherba, Russian marines from the 810th Brigade refused to leave their ship and attack the city of Odesa.
He tweeted: "Last night a large group of Russian warships was about to launch landing on Odesa beaches.
"They approached the coast. Russia was about to shell the beach. Ukraine was about to shoot back when they suddenly withdrew.
"Reports that marines from Crimea refused to attack Odesa."
Perhaps most disturbingly for the Russian high command, an entire unit of the Ukrainian army is composed entirely of men who have deserted from Russian units.
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In that climate, Grozev’s prediction that the Russian officers tasked with a duty that could almost certainly bring about the end of life as we know it might hesitate to push the button.
There have been at least four times in history when lone individuals defied an order to press the fateful button.
Perhaps the most nail-biting took place in the early 1980s when an satellite early-warning system near Moscow reported what looked like a US missile launch.
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Stanislav Petrov, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Force, was ordered to retaliate. He decided, on his own authority, to declare the ”launch” as a false alarm and calmly waited to see if the “missiles” would strike.
Bruce Blair, an expert on Cold War nuclear strategies and former president of the World Security Institute in Washington, DC., said: "I think that this is the closest our country has come to accidental nuclear war.”
The danger of nuclear destruction is very real, and is probably higher now than it has been since the darkest days of the Cold War, but there’s hope that – if the order were ever given – someone in the chain of command would realise the consequences of what they were doing and refuse to push the button.
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