Since launching a full scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has twice warned the West against any intervention, or face “consequences that you have never encountered in your history”.
The Kremlin leader is widely thought to boast the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. So, who could he likely use his weapons against, if he felt threatened?
The most likely target of any nuclear strike by Russia could be its former Cold War adversary the US.
After Moscow, the US is recognised as the biggest nuclear power in the world, and holds an estimated 5,600 nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
President Putin also recently labelled the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a US-led military alliance.
Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and a nuclear weapon
Graphic of countries with nuclear weapons
He said NATO enlargement was being used by the US in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation.
Prior to launching his invasion, President Putin complained about expansion by the military pact towards Moscow’s borders.
Officials at the Kremlin might view striking a US target as a symbolic sign of the country’s power. It could also intimidate NATO allies from moving against Russia’s plans.
But given the nuclear prowess of the US, Russia may equally be deterred from launching any attacks.
Vladimir Putin waving to the public
Since war broke out in Ukraine, last February, Britain has provided significant amounts of military aid to Kyiv’s Government.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also personally visited Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and promised to offer “continued economic and humanitarian support”.
In response, allies of President Putin have threatened the UK with retaliatory action.
Dmitry Kiselyov, a key propagandist for the Russian President, said Britain could be “plunged into the sea” by an underwater nuclear strike.
The deputy chairman of the Kremlin’s defence committee, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, also warned a Russian nuclear attack could wipe out the UK in less than four minutes.
Alongside the US, Britain is viewed as one of the key members of NATO, and any attack towards it could carry significance for President Putin.
However, again Moscow would have to weigh up the risk and reward from attacking a NATO country, and what type of response it would generate.
3) NATO allies
Russia could also target a number of NATO’s 28 other member states, including France, Germany and Canada.
President Putin has previously raised security concerns against the alliance, stating it’s ultimate goal was to “contain Russia”.
Using a nuclear weapon against a member country would undoubtedly test the alliances’ will to respond to Article 5 of its official charter.
It could also encourage some allies to disband from the military pact, and deter others from joining.