Russia has about 6,000 nuclear warheads and about 1,400 of them are ready for immediate use. “March of justice” on Moscow, organized by the head of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has made Western leaders and the military concerned about the safety of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. They even discussed the issue with the Russian Ministry of Defense.
“Putin’s cook” is known for his brutality, and if he succeeded in seizing power, he would be a poorly predictable leader; the possibility that chaos would ensue in a nuclear power that is one of the United States’ main adversaries has created new risks, The New York Times (NYT) wrote. U.S. intelligence agencies had information that Prigozhin was preparing an action against the Russian military leadership, but since Friday, when the Wagnerites went to Rostov, events began to unfold unexpectedly and too quickly. The intelligence agencies did not know what the consequences of Prigozhin’s actions would be, but were immediately concerned about how they might affect nuclear arms control, the NYT reported, citing U.S. officials.
Last October, Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin could be very dangerous if cornered.
According to several of the paper’s sources, he was confident that Putin would eventually declare that the insurgency was organized by foreign forces. Therefore, Washington’s goal in particular was not to give any reason for such an accusation.
The State Department sent out a demand to all U.S. missions not to contact anyone in their host countries about the situation in Russia and not to respond to local media inquiries about it without consulting Washington.
The problem of nuclear weapons is of concern not only across the Atlantic, but also closer to Russia’s borders. “If there is chaos in Moscow, people are asking the same question as in 1991”, when the GKChP staged a coup by removing Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from power, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, soon to be president, told The Washington Post: “Who controls the nuclear soccer?”.
A high-ranking NATO military official expressed the same opinion to the newspaper: “This is a dual situation. We do not want Russia to be too strong. But we also do not want it to be too weak. We do not want a non-functioning state, because they are still a nuclear power”.
That is why NATO has even decided to contact the Russian Defense Ministry, La Repubblica reported, “NATO is afraid of a nuclear incident. It is necessary to avoid the risk of escalation.” According to the Italian newspaper, “informal contacts” took place between the alliance and the Defense Ministry on the situation with Wagner.
NATO representatives wanted to clarify the situation with 1,400 nuclear warheads and emphasize that they had nothing to do with the actions of the insurgents. In addition, according to La Repubblica, Biden discussed the risks of escalation and “avoiding a nuclear incident” with the leaders of leading European states.