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Ex-CIA officer says Putin is 'completely cornered' and the chances of his using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine are increasing 'by the day'

Business Insider logo Business Insider 9/27/2022 jepstein@insider.com (Jake Epstein)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP © Provided by Business Insider Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
  • A former CIA officer said Vladimir Putin had been backed into a corner over his war in Ukraine.
  • Robert Baer told CNN the Russian leader was unlikely to deescalate, given all his setbacks.
  • Baer also said the chances that Putin might turn to tactical nuclear weapons were increasing.

As military setbacks in Ukraine force Russian President Vladimir Putin into a corner, one former CIA officer argues that the chances he might turn to nuclear weapons are increasing.

"I think the chances of his de-escalating are close to zero," Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer, told CNN on Tuesday, adding that Putin "simply cannot give up so much ground and be seen to be losing and continue as leader of Russia."

"The chances of his using nuclear weapons — at least tactical nuclear weapons — is going up by the day," Baer added, referring to smaller nuclear weapons meant for use on the battlefield.

Ukrainian forces have recently retaken thousands of square miles of its territory previously under Russian occupation in counteroffensives along the war's eastern and southern fronts — a move that appears to have sparked a shift in Putin's approach to the seven-month conflict.

Last week, the Russian leader delivered a rare televised address in which he announced the partial military mobilization of his country's reservists, paving the way for more troops to deploy to Ukraine. Immediately after, Russians took to the streets and protested against the war. Many fled the country by any means necessary, fearing a call-up to fight.

The Kremlin on Monday acknowledged making mistakes when selecting draftees who would be sent to Ukraine and said it hoped mobilization would speed up once the issue is fixed.

But Baer told CNN that battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and domestic pressure in Russia wouldn't have any impact on the Russian president, who Baer argued was unlikely to withdraw troops and negotiate an end to the war.

Police officers detaining a protester during an unsanctioned anti-war protest in Moscow on Wednesday. Photo by Contributor/Getty Images © Photo by Contributor/Getty Images Police officers detaining a protester during an unsanctioned anti-war protest in Moscow on Wednesday. Photo by Contributor/Getty Images

"He's a strongman — he's portrayed himself that for the last 20 years — he doesn't give into dissent," Baer said. "He's cornered. He is completely cornered, and like a shark, he's got to move forward. He continues to bomb Ukrainian cities. He continues to grab people. He continues to hold onto ground, and I don't see him caving in at all."

During Putin's mobilization announcement, he also threatened to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, baselessly accused Western countries of provoking him with "nuclear blackmail," and said his remarks weren't a bluff. Russia has the world's largest nuclear arsenal, equipped with both tactical nuclear weapons as well as strategic nuclear weapons, which would be used against cities.

"Russians that I keep in touch within Russia are convinced he's going to go nuclear," Baer told CNN. "I don't know how well-connected they are, but this threat — it was a threat initially — but the more trouble he's in, the more likely he's going to use nuclear weapons."

Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, told reporters on Monday that what he called Putin's "nuclear saber-rattling," among other things like mobilization, signaled "very clearly that he knows he is losing."

"He's on his back heels," Price said. "And he's making every attempt to intimidate those who would stand up to him. We — along with our allies and partners around the world — are not going to bow to intimidation."

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