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John Bolton Suggests U.S. Could Take Out Putin if He Uses Nuclear Weapons

Newsweek 10/11/2022 Andrew Stanton
In this image, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Saint Petersburg on October 11, 2022. John Bolton suggested the U.S. could take Putin out if he uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine on Tuesday. © PAVEL BEDNYAKOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images In this image, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Saint Petersburg on October 11, 2022. John Bolton suggested the U.S. could take Putin out if he uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Former national security adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday the U.S. could take out Russian President Vladimir Putin if he were to use nuclear weapons.

As the Russian-Ukraine war continues into its seventh month, concerns about a possible nuclear strike have increased. Putin recently ramped up his rhetoric about a nuclear response, notably as his military has seen significant losses in Ukraine since the launch of Russia's "special military operation" in late February.

Bolton, who was former President Donald Trump's national security adviser, spoke about the possibility of a nuclear war during an appearance on the British radio show LBC on Tuesday. He called on the U.S. to increase efforts to deter Putin from using nuclear weapons.

"We need to make clear if Putin were to order the use of a tactical nuclear weapon he would be signing a suicide note," Bolton said. "I think that's what it may take to deter him if he gets into extreme circumstances."

Bolton said he believes "making it clear we will levy responsibility" on Putin if he orders the use of nuclear weapons will increase the chances of deterring him from doing so. He added that he believes the U.S. is capable of targeting Russia's president.

"You can ask Qassem Soleimani in Iran what happens when we decide somebody is a threat to the U.S.," he said, referring to the Iranian military commander who was killed in 2020 by a U.S. airstrike in Iraq.

He said he believes current nuclear threats are a "bluff," but he would not rule out the possibility Putin could use nuclear weapons if Russian forces in Ukraine "collapsed" or if Putin was in a "really dire" political situation at home.

Last week, President Joe Biden warned of a nuclear "Armageddon," one of his administration's most direct acknowledgments of the Russian nuclear threat.

"He is not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological and chemical weapons, because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming," Biden said Thursday. "I don't think there's any such thing as the ability to easily use tactical nuclear weapons and not end up with armageddon."

Putin warned he would "use all the means at our disposal" to "protect Russia and our people" during a national address last month.

"The citizens of Russia can rest assured that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be defended—I repeat—by all the systems available to us," he said. "Those who are using nuclear blackmail against us should know that the wind rose can turn around."

Nuclear concerns come as Russia has struggled to achieve any substantial goals in Ukraine. The war exposed weaknesses in Putin's military, including difficulties recruiting and maintaining motivated troops. Meanwhile, the West has rallied around Ukraine and given it military aid, helping it launch counteroffensives to take back occupied territory.

Over the weekend, the Kerch Straight Bridge—which connects Russia to Crimea, the territory Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014—was struck with an explosion. Russia labeled the explosion a "terrorist" attack from Ukraine and responded with non-nuclear strikes on Ukrainian cities including Kyiv, resulting in the deaths of 11 cities.

Updated 10/11/2022, at 5:02 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and background.

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