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Russian nuclear doctrine does not advocate first use of nuclear weapons, but neither does it rule out first use in response to a conventional attack that threatens the existence of the state.

President Putin has increasingly used the threat of the Russian nuclear arsenal to pressurise the West over its military and diplomatic support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

As part of this campaign of nuclear pressure, Russia has placed its weapons on heightened alert, tested and deployed new nuclear capabilities, threatened to resume nuclear testing, and suspended participation in a key nuclear arms control treaty with the US.

In March 2023 Russia said it would deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, the first of which arrived in June 2023. This is the first time that Russia has deployed nuclear weapons outside of the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While not a direct violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, some have argued that, like NATO nuclear sharing agreements, the decision contravenes the spirit of the NPT.

The US and NATO have called Russia’s increasing nuclear rhetoric over the conflict in Ukraine “irresponsible”. China has called for restraint and said that the use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons should be opposed.

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