Russia’s renewed aggressive foreign policy is significantly enhancing the chance of a nuclear confrontation, an expert panel said on “60 minutes.”
The Russian annexation of Crimea, coupled with its surreptitious invasion of Ukraine, significantly changed U.S. thinking regarding nuclear weapons, Retired Army Gen. Philip Breedlove told CBS. Breedlove highlighted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that he would raise the nuclear readiness of Russia if the U.S. tried to militarily intervene in Crimea.
“They see nuclear weapons as a normal extension of a conventional conflict,” Breedlove said of Russian strategic thinking. “I think to them the use of nuclear weapons is not unthinkable.” Russia’s own military doctrine updated in 2014 says Russia “shall reserve the right to use nuclear weapons . . . In the event of aggression.”
The U.S. has responded by increasing the number of Cold War-era overflights in the North Pole. The exercises deploy nuclear capable bombers close to the Russian border to signal the ability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
NATO announced it was sending four additional battalions to its eastern flank in 2017 as a defensive signal to Russia. NATO’s eastern flank includes the Baltic States and Poland, which were members of the former Soviet Union. Putin has called the fall of the Soviet Union one of the greatest political tragedies of all time, and responded angrily to NATO’s announcement.
Russian and U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war have also put the two countries at odds. Reports indicate Russia bombed a base used by U.S. special operators, and its client regime of Syria bombed positions close to U.S. special operators. The U.S. indicated it would shoot down any aircraft that endangered its special operators on the ground.
“It concerns me that we have leadership in Russia, at various levels that would flagrantly talk about the use of a nuclear weapon in this 21st century,” head of U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Cecil Haney told CBS. U.S. Strategic Command is responsible for executing a nuclear strike, if ordered to do so by the president.
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