As Ukraine’s armed forces routinely shell Russia’s southwestern regions and send armed drones as far as Moscow itself, the worry grows within the Russian policy elite that the very basis of their country’s great power pretensions — its ability to threaten the world with nuclear weapons — has been eroded to the point where adversaries feel they can simply ignore it.

"The fear of a nuclear escalation must be restored, otherwise humanity is doomed,” Sergei Karaganov, president emeritus of Russia’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council, wrote in the Profil weekly. Before the war in Ukraine started, Karaganov was considered one of the Kremlin’s intelligent voices; he’s not the first among once-respected Russian political thinkers to slide toward the hysterical edge since the invasion began. Back in September 2022, Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal Russia in Global Politics, and Dmitri Trenin, former director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, were already complaining that the West appeared to have lost its fear of Russia’s nuclear deterrent and discussing how to bring it back — that is, how to drive home to Americans that the U.S., too, could be the target of a Russian nuclear strike.

Karaganov’s op-ed goes even further. He argues that if the West ignores Russia’s increasingly dire warnings — such as, for example, a public call on all Russians and "people of goodwill” to leave certain areas in Western countries — Russia should actually "strike a group of targets in a number of countries.”