(Newser) – Vladimir Putin on Sunday again raised the prospect of invoking the nuclear option—and not as a metaphor. In a televised address, the Russian leader announced he was putting the nation’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, reports the AP, which sees the move as a “dramatic escalation of East-West tensions.” In his speech, Putin said “aggressive statements” by NATO powers amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced him to put the nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty.” (The development comes as Ukraine and Russia agreed to their first talks since the conflict began.)
- Second time: As Axios notes, this is the second time Putin has rattled his nuclear sword amid the conflict. When he first sent troops over the border, he reminded the world that Russia was a leading nuclear power and warned that any nation interfering would face “consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”
- Elaborating: “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” Putin said Sunday.
- Not to worry? Last week, Vox spoke to three analysts who said the chances Putin would go nuclear were slim to none. “I think there is virtually no chance nuclear weapons are going to be used in the Ukraine situation,” says Matthew Bunn of Harvard Kennedy School. That’s the gist of the piece, though Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, adds, “I’m more worried than I was a week ago.”
- Then again: Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, didn’t exactly set people’s mind at ease about the Russian leader’s state of mind with this tweet on Friday night: “I wish I could share more, but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with #Putin,” he wrote. “He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different & significant … It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have 5 years ago.”