Ukraine War, November 2, 2022 (II): Putin renews nuclear threats by calls from his generals to their counterparts in the West

To understand the broad context within which current developments in Ukraine should be considered, see

“Ukraine War, October 26, 2022: The context for analysis of current developments; The “dirty bomb” as a Russian propaganda distraction from current war crimes,” The Trenchant Observer, October 26, 2022.


1) Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, “Russian Military Leaders Discussed Use of Nuclear Weapons, U.S. Officials Say: The conversations alarmed the Biden administration because they showed how frustrated Moscow had become over its battlefield setbacks in Ukraine,” New York Times, November 2, 2022 ( 5:00 a.m.);


Russian generals made a round of calls to their counterparts in the U.S. and other NATO countries during the last week, in effect renewing Putin’s nuclear threats.

Putin may have ordered these calls for several purposes.

First, they could be used to gage the likely reaction of U.S. and NATO forces to Russian use of a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Earlier reports left the impression that the NATO response would be measured and not involve the use of nuclear weapons, or even the entry of NATO forces into the conflict by attacking Russian conventional forces in Ukraine.

Getting an updated read on opponents and their intentions. This is the way Putin used the visits by Western leaders before the invasion, when they begging him not to invade Ukraine.

If in any calls from Russian Generals to counterparts in NATO countries the latter said anything to Russian generals or officuals about what they might react to, and when and how, they got played by Putin.

Think about it. Putin and Russia are committing the international crime of aggression by invading Ukraine.

They are conducting a strategy based on the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in brazen violation of the fundamental principle underlying all international humanitarian law (the law of war), that civilians and civilian targets must never be intentionally attacked.

Forces under these generals are committing war crimes daily on a massive scale and on such a systematic basis so that they constitute crimes against humanity. They are also committing war crimes against a targeted national group which constitute acts of genocide as these are defined in the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Russia is a party to the Convention. Indeed, in the genocide case before it, the International Court of Justice or “World Court” has issued an order of provisional measures (like a temporary injunction) calling on Russia to cease its military actions in Ukraine.

And tbese generals are calling NATO generals to discuss scenarios in which a tactical nuclear weapon might be used by Russia?

Are we crazy?

At the very least, we the public deserve to know what our generals told their generals.

A second purpose for which Putin may have ordered these calls would be to ratchet up the fear of Putin on President Joe Biden’s part. This is most likely.

Thurd, they could be used to fan the fear of nuclear war among the populations of NATO countries.

Our generals should have had a script by which they said, “If you use a nuclear weapon, it may cost you your life, and the lives of your children and grandchildren. Now, how can we keep this from happening?”

It’s hard to conjure up the image of German General Rommel ringing up British General Montgomery to discus moves and countermoves in upcoming tank battles in North Africa in World War II.

Biden needs to form an Executive Committee to help him navigate the perilous waters of the current nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States.

Biden and his administration also need to shift gears and become proactive in the current showdown with Russia.

Passivity and constantly ceding “escalation dominance” to Putin is not a recipe for success.

Putin is taking down Ukraine’s electricity and water infrastructure every day as we speak.

What will it take to wake up the leaders in the U.S. and other NATO countries to take effective action in response to Putin’s escalations?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.