From the guarantor of global security to the greatest threat to humanity: nuclear weapons and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

by | Aug 7, 2023 | Nuclear, Ukraine | 0 comments

Author: Gabriele Kaminskaite

The Problem
On the 3rd of January 2022, the Non-Proliferation Treaty nuclear states (USA, UK, Russia, China and France) declared that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” (White House, 2022). Two months later, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine and placed his nuclear forces on combat duty (Putin, 2022a). Since the invasion, NATO countries have been pouring weapons into Ukraine falling short of direct intervention due to fears of nuclear escalation. At the same time, Russia is committing horrifying war crimes, from deliberate bombing of non-military structures to targeted killing of civilians (already recognised as genocide by some states), forceful deportation of children, torture and rape. Despite Western weapons, Russian aggression continues to escalate and NATO, the strongest military defence alliance in the world, is left to grapple with the moral consequences of non-intervention.

The Background
The nuclear straitjacket that NATO is in shows that nuclear weapons are one of the greatest threats to global security, rather than a guarantor of it. Nuclear proliferation was believed to promote global security in the first place because it was based on Western understandings of the use of nuclear weapons, which were one-sided and, as the invasion revealed, plainly wrong. It assumes, for instance, that nuclear weapons states are post-imperial countries. The end of the Cold War signalled a new era where democratic regimes have become dominant and conventional conquest had ended. Hence, Western powers have sought to control nuclear proliferation and eventually to abandon nuclear weapons altogether. They have, however, failed to grasp Russia’s experience after the Soviet Union collapse. Russia was assumed to follow the Western path of the post-imperial era and NATO, as well as Russia, drastically reduced the number of nuclear weapons (Norris and Kristensen, 2010). What was overlooked was that Russia’s conquest was nowhere at its end. In contrast to NATO, Russia modernised its existing nuclear forces making them a key asset for Russia’s imperial agenda in 2008 in Georgia, in 2015 in Syria and in 2014 and 2022 in Ukraine (Kroenig, 2015).

In a similar vein, the idea that nuclear states are responsible actors using nuclear weapons as deterrence is also false as Russia’s behaviour is exceptionally reckless and nuclear weapons are used for intimidation, rather than deterrence. When Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February 2022, Vladimir Putin accompanied the invasion with a range of nuclear threats. They include placing his nuclear forces on combat-ready mode claiming that “those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind rose can turn around” and reiterating that “this is not a bluff” (Putin, 2022b). Continuous shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian forces was particularly dangerous as risk of a nuclear disaster became exceptionally high threatening the whole of Europe. Illegal annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions of Ukraine was another intimidation attempt. Russia does not have a “no first strike” policy and its nuclear deterrence policy allows first use if national security of the Russian Federation is threatened. Upon the annexation of the four regions, it was loosely speculated that Russia may invoke the use of tactical nuclear weapons, using the justification of protecting its own territory, which is lawful under domestic legislation (Reuters, 2022). As the annexation was not recognised by the UN and Ukraine has since regained control of Kherson, it appears that the annexation was yet another intimidation tactic to raise anxiety over the nuclear war and influence Western support for Ukraine.

The overlook of the real intentions of Russia’s nuclear doctrine is a consequence of Eurocentrism, one of the key focuses of postcolonial thinkers today. Eurocentrism can be described as a worldview that is centred on the Western experience, knowledge and benefit.  European colonial conquests between the 16th and 20th centuries not only acquired territories but came to dominate the global knowledge, too. This was enabled by the Enlightenment, a European knowledge revolution that was enforced onto colonised states worldwide under the guise of European modernity and colonial conquest (Said, 1979). Therefore, the concern of postcolonial thinkers is that Eurocentric knowledge is not factually correct but was produced to be so through Western domination of the world. Western states adopted their experiences of colonialism and the subsequent de-colonisation in the second half of the 20th century assuming that Russia, after the Soviet Union collapse, was heading in the same direction. Unfortunately, no de-colonisation took place in Russia. On the contrary, evidence shows that the subjugated nations that were conquered in the past by the Russian Empire are now being sent to Ukraine war’s meat grinder (Foreign Policy, 2022).

The Solution
Challenging Eurocentrism allows us to start provincializing Europe and look for alternative sources of knowledge (Chakrabarty, 2000). Postcolonial examination of Russia’s nuclear doctrine reveals problematic Eurocentric assumptions of the West and shows Russia’s imperial character, disregard for international rules-based order and absence of nuclear deterrence. Time cannot be turned back on nuclear weapons proliferation; however, the current moral dilemma faced by NATO shows the need for a change in global knowledge-building. It is important to remember that the alternative voices are not enough as there are already plenty of them – the issue is that these voices continue to be unheard, marginalised and their knowledge undervalued. Plokhy (2017), a Ukrainian scholar, warned that a clash between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable and so did the former president of Chechnya Dzhokhar Dudayev as early as 1995 (Ichkeria English, 2022). Therefore, Western academics and politicians should pay genuine attention to the warnings and teachings of their Eastern counterparts if they wish to preserve global peace because persistent Eurocentrism has led to one of the greatest threats that humanity faces today.


Short bio

Gabriele Kaminskaite is a Masters student in International Relations at The University of Manchester. Her thesis argues that contemporary Russian liberalism is tainted with imperialist discourse, with a specific focus on Alexei Navalny’s political rhetoric. Gabriele utilises postcolonial theory in order to draw attention to Russian imperialism and to provide alternative forms of knowledge that deepen the current understandings of Russia’s foreign policy, including Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022. She also supports the local Manchester Ukrainian community in raising awareness about the war in Ukraine.




Chakrabarty, D. (2000). Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton University Press.

Foreign Policy (2022). Russia Is Sending Its Ethnic Minorities to the Meat Grinder. 23rd of September. Available at [accessed on 29th July 2023]

Ichkeria English (2022). [Interview] President Dzhokhar Dudayev about Russia-Ukraine war back in 1995. 12th of March. Available at President Dzhokhar Dudayev about Russia-Ukraine war back in 1995 – YouTube [accessed 19th June 2023]

Kroenig, M. (2015). Facing Reality: Getting NATO Ready for a New Cold War, Survival, 57:1, 49-70.

Norris, R. S., & Kristensen, H. M. (2010). Global nuclear weapons inventories, 1945–2010. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66(4), 77–83.

Plokhy, S. (2017). The Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation from 1470 to the Present, Basic Books: New York, 2017.

Putin, V. (2022a). Meeting with Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov. 27th of February 2022. Available at [accessed 20th of December 2022]

Putin, V. (2022d). Address by the President of the Russian Federation. 21st of September. Russian Federation. Available at [accessed 18th of December 2022]

Reuters (2022). Russia says seized Ukrainian lands are under its nuclear protection. 18th of October. Available at [accessed 24th of December 2022]

Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

White House (2022). Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races. 3rd of January. United States, Available at – :~:text=We%20affirm%20that%20a%20nuclear,deter%20aggression%2C%20and%20prevent%20war. [accessed on 18th of December 2022]


Image credits: © Hamara / Adobe Stock (Standard License)