Will Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Lead to Nuclear War?


Could Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lead to a nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States? Few would have imagined that such a nightmare scenario was possible even a few years ago. But Vladimir Putin’s recent directive putting Russia’s strategic nuclear forces on a “special regime of combat duty,” coupled with his ominous warning about “consequences you have never seen in your history” for those hindering Russian operations in Ukraine, has prompted concerns about intentional or unintentional nuclear escalation.

On March 9, the Center for the National Interest convened a discussion with two leading experts on Russia and the dangers of nuclear escalation.

James Acton holds the Jessica T. Mathews Chair and is co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His work on escalation includes Entanglement: Chinese and Russian Perspectives on Non-nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Risks and “Escalation through Entanglement.”

Cynthia Roberts is Professor of Political Science at Hunter College, CUNY, and a Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University. In 2019, Prof. Roberts served as a policy adviser at the Joint Staff, Department of Defense in J-5, Strategy, Plans, and Policy.

George Beebe, Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center, and former director of Russia analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency, moderated the discussion.