I’m pretty sure Russia is not planning on nuking ISIS

Vladimir Putin used the words “nuclear” and “warhead” in a conversation about Russia’s military action in Syria yesterday, and so that created a bit of a stir on the internet tubes. For example, here’s Fox News’s level-headed take:

putin fox

For balance, here’s the equally fair-minded RT:

putin rt

And from The Hill:

putin hill

Also this, from The Independent (in the UK):

putin ind

Just for fun, let’s see what he actually said, per the Kremlin (the same place all three of these scary stories got their material):

Vladimir Putin: With regard to strikes from a submarine. We certainly need to analyse everything that is happening on the battlefield, how the weapons work. Both the Calibre missiles and the Kh-101 rockets are generally showing very good results. We now see that these are new, modern and highly effective high-precision weapons that can be equipped either with conventional or special nuclear warheads.

Naturally, we do not need that in fighting terrorists, and I hope we will never need it. But overall, this speaks to our significant progress in terms of improving weaponry and equipment being supplied to the Russian army and navy.

For context: this is part of a transcript of a meeting between Putin and his defense minister, Sergey Shoygu, where they’re talking about the effectiveness of new Russian rockets and their Kalibr cruise missiles, which were fired from a submerged submarine in the Mediterranean. Shoygu ordered the Kalibr missiles to be fired from a submerged submarine not because there’s some strategic benefit to using submarine-launched cruise missiles against an enemy that has neither a navy nor an air force, but because Putin wanted the new missiles tested in that kind of launch. Since Russia was bombing Syria anyway, they took the opportunity to kill two birds (and probably a whole bunch of Syrians, but clearly that’s not the Kremlin’s main concern) with one very large exploding stone–well, a few of them, anyway.

Now, for a guy who is “suggesting,” or “weighing,” a nuclear strike on ISIS, or “hoping” that things won’t come to that, Putin seems pretty clear that he’s actually not thinking about nuking ISIS. There are very few ways you can parse the sentence “Naturally, we do not need that [nukes] in fighting terrorists” and come away thinking “oh man, this guy is thinking about nuking the terrorists.” To the extent that Putin was delivering a message, and obviously he was or the Kremlin wouldn’t have bothered posting a transcript, it wasn’t directed at ISIS.

Considering the state of Russia’s relations with NATO member Turkey, it should be pretty obvious what Putin’s message was and for whom it was meant.This was a pretty clear signal to the West: hey, these new missiles we developed are pretty damn good, and by the way did you know we could put nuclear warheads on them? Sure would be a shame if we ever had to do that, huh? That veiled “I hope we never need it” threat is for Washington and Brussels, not Raqqa.

I award The Independent partial credit for the “…or anyone else” in its headline, but those other three outlets up there should be ashamed.

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