Russia’s conventional forces are strained at the moment, supporting the frozen conflicts in East Ukraine, Transdniester, South Ossetia, and an expeditionary force in Syria. With the price of crude oil approaching $30 on the global market, many analysts have said Putin’s adventure in the Middle East is unsustainable.
Nuclear weapons are Russia’s ace in the hole, the great equalizer to NATO superior numbers and technology. As tensions with the United States and NATO rise over the conflict in Ukraine and Russian operations against the Syrian resistance and the Islamic State, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to remind the West of Russia’s nuclear power.
“New weapons should go to “all parts” of the nuclear triad of air, sea, and land forces,” Putin told a Defense Ministry meeting in Moscow on Friday. “Action must also be taken “to improve the effectiveness of missile-attack warning systems and aerospace defense,” reported Bloomberg. Putin said Russia’s military must continue its program of training drills and devote special attention to the “transport of troops over long distances” as well as “strategic nuclear deterrence” and the ability to airlift forces including “anti-aircraft, missile and electronic elements.”
Putin has reminded the West repeatedly to “not forget that Russia is a nuclear power.” These recent comments, combined with his statement this week that he ‘hoped nuclear weapons would not be needed against the Islamic State,’ could be illustrative of the pressure the Kremlin feels regarding fears of social unrest with a shrinking Russian economy.