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In Putin’s Nuclear Brinksmanship, Weapons Leave Room For Warning

Tactical nuclear arms would take time to prepare for use, giving Kremlin a tool for signaling.

A Russian Iskander-K missile launched during a military exercise in Russia, in 2017.
A Russian Iskander-K missile launched during a military exercise in Russia, in 2017.Russian Defense Ministry/AP Photo

As Vladimir Putin’s game of chicken with the US and its allies over Ukraine escalates into a new round of nuclear threats, the smaller weapons that his officials have called on him to use may provide vital hours or even days of warning.

While Russia’s long-range missiles and bombers are kept on constant alert, ready to fire in just minutes to ensure they aren’t destroyed by a pre-emptive strike, lower-yielding tactical weapons are locked up in about a dozen warehouses across Russia and it would take time to transport them to launchers.