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Hal Brands

Take Putin’s Nuclear Threat Seriously, But Not Too Seriously

Few think the Russian leader would be foolish enough to escalate radically, but there’s also a strong argument to be made that he’s not bluffing.

A serious man.

A serious man.

Photographer: Ilya Pitalev/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised anew the possibility he might use nuclear weapons against Ukraine to prevail in a conflict going sideways. The smart money says he won’t, because doing so — or otherwise expanding the conflict drastically — wouldn’t make a bad situation any better.

Yet the smart money might not have predicted the choices that set Putin down this path in the first place.