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Andreas Kluth

A Decision Tree for Biden If Putin Goes Nuclear

One question is how to retaliate against a Russian nuclear strike. Another is whether to announce it clearly or vaguely, publicly or privately.

Don’t. Or else.

Don’t. Or else.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t want to use nuclear weapons, just as he doesn’t want to still fight his “special military operation” against Ukraine. But he is still fighting — because he’s unable to win. That also means he might yet drop a nuke, as he once again threatened this week. The US and its allies — and Putin’s putative friends in China and elsewhere — need to decide now how they’d react.

For Putin, nuclear escalation wouldn’t be a way of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, but of snatching survival — political or even physical — from the maw of oblivion. Unlike democratic leaders, he has no way to retire gracefully after all the damage he’s done. As a quack historian of the Tsars, he knows that his end could be messy.