Would Putin Use "Tactical" Nuclear Weapons? | And what are "Tactical" Nuclear ?

A tactical nuclear weapon is designed to be used on a battlefield in military situations mostly with friendly forces in proximity and perhaps even on contested friendly territory.

Tactical nuclear weapons include gravity bombs, short-range missiles, artillery shells, land mines, depth charges, and torpedoes which are equipped with nuclear warheads. Also in this category are nuclear-armed ground-based or shipborne surface-to-air missiles and air-to-air missiles.

How big is Russia's nuclear arsenal?

Russia has the largest number of nuclear warheads of any country, according to the SIPRI peace research institute in Stockholm, which puts the figure at 6,255.

Experts say the risk in Ukraine is not the deployment of a giant "strategic" weapon, which pose a threat to the entire planet.

Instead, Putin might be tempted to use a "tactical" weapon, with a smaller warhead that causes localised devastation but without threatening life across Europe.

These weapons come in various sizes, and their impact depends on whether they explode at ground level or above the Earth's surface.

US President Joe Biden also claimed this week that Moscow was considering the use of chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine.

"Chemical weapons would not change the course of the war. A tactical nuclear weapon that reduces a Ukrainian city to rubble? Yes," Mathieu Boulegue, an analyst at the London-based Chatham House, told AFP.

Aren't nuclear weapons a last resort?

Yes, but Ukraine and Western capitals fear that Putin finds himself cornered, sustaining major battlefield losses and economic problems at home that put his political survival in doubt.

A tactical nuclear strike would be intended to break the resistance of Ukrainian forces and force President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender.

Pavel Luzin, an expert at the Russia-focused think-tank Riddle, said the first step would see a tactical weapon used over the sea or an uninhabited area, as an act of intimidation.

"After that, if the adversary still wants to fight, it may be used against the adversary in the direct way," he said -- meaning over a city.