In two recent—and rare—public appearances, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said that Russia might abandon its long-held “No First Use” (NFU) nuclear weapons policy, under certain conditions, and bring it in line with Washington’s pre-emptive strikes policy. This leaves India and China as the only countries in the world with a pledge to adhere to NFU, as most members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) do not hold such policy.
In the U.S., a President can decide to launch a nuclear attack for any reason and at any time without checks from other government branches. In theory, the U.S. military could hesitate to execute the President’s order if it was deemed not to satisfy the Laws of Armed Conflict. However, Washington deserves the right to launch a nuclear attack pre-emptively.
Russia’s potential policy change in its nuclear doctrine could make the world a more dangerous place as the two former superpowers enter a new territory of confrontation over Ukraine.
Ex-chancellor Angela Merkel expresses regrets
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in early December 2022 that she should have devoted more time and energy to the need to strengthen Germany’s capacities to deter Russia. She admitted failures on defence policy, while calling for a “negotiated solution” to the conflict in Ukraine—but not on “dictatorial terms”.
In Merkel’s opinion, the “Cold War never ended”, and the Minsk Agreements from 2014–15 which Germany helped co-negotiate between Ukraine and Russia were meant to buy time for Ukraine, said Merkel in an interview for Die Zeit.
68-year-old Merkel also refused to apologise for Germany’s heavy reliance on Russia’s natural gas, arguing that all other options during her reign would have made Germany less competitive internationally.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary-General, said in a recent interview for a Norwegian news outlet that Russia and NATO could now be closer to conflict than at any other time since the end of the Cold War.
The last time Russia’s and NATO’s forces came close to a clash was in 1999, during a “race” to take over the Pristina airport in a conflict over Kosovo between Yugoslavia and NATO members. The war over Kosovo was NATO’s first major out-of-area conflict in history, with NATO forces still being stationed there under “Operation Shape”.
NATO members have been the staunchest supporters of Ukraine since Russia began its invasion on 24 February, delivering more than $5 billion in military equipment and other sources of assistance to Ukraine.
The long winter of war in Ukraine
As Russia’s unrelenting strikes against Ukraine’s energy, civilian and military infrastructure continue, experts are suggesting that Putin might consider using a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, despite Biden Administration’s repeated warnings of devastating consequences which such a decision would bring. Putin’s mentioning of the idea of “First Use” of nuclear weapons is regarded by Biden’s advisors as “saber-rattling”, according to ABC news.
Australia enacts new sanctions against Russians
On 10 December, new sanctions targeting specific Russians were enacted by Australia, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong stating:
“Seven Russian individuals involved in the attempted assassination of former opposition leader Alexei Navalny will also have human rights sanctions imposed on them.
These sanctions target grievous human rights situations where the perpetrators continue to act with impunity.
…The Australian Government calls on countries to exert their influence on Russia to end its illegal, immoral war.”
Capping the price of Russia’s crude oil
Australia—alongside members of the Group of Seven (G7) and European Union—capped the price of Russian seaborne crude oil to USD$60 per barrel in a drive to alleviate domestic energy prices which continue to soar.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said:
“The price cap is designed to maintain a reliable supply of oil to the global market while reducing the revenue Russia earns from oil. …Together with G7 countries, additional price caps are intended to be implemented for refined petroleum products in February 2023.”