Video of Russian President Vladimir Putin released Wednesday shows him arriving in China with what appears to be the so-called nuclear “football,” which he can use to order a nuclear strike.
“This is not a coincidence,” Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, told Fox News Digital.
“The Kremlin almost certainly deliberately orchestrated the filming of Putin’s version of the ‘nuclear football’ – which is almost never done — and had the Russian media, which the Kremlin controls, highlight the fact that ‘certain suitcases’ always accompany the Russian president on trips,” she said.
Putin visited China at a time when he needed to drum up more support for his cause at home as his invasion of Ukraine drags on, having lasted 20 months longer than the roughly two weeks his advisors suggested necessary to capture Kyiv and then take control of the country.
A political consultant and a Kremlin official told The Moscow Times that the trip aimed to rally the Russian public behind Putin and his invasion, but Putin returned without any major deals – for either energy or agriculture – that he had hoped to achieve.
The briefcase remains close to Putin at all times but rarely has ever been shown – especially in such a blatant and focused way. The officer carrying the case is from the naval branch and is known as the “Cheget” after Mount Cheget in the Caucasus Mountains.
Koffler explained that the display is yet another reminder from Putin that the “nuclear card” remains “on the table” should Ukraine try to take Crimea or other annexed territories, such as Donetsk or Luhansk.
The Kremlin correspondent of state news agency RIA said in a Telegram post under the video that there are “certain suitcases” that Putin needs to “complete” his trips. Another clip shows the same officers again following Putin as he leaves a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The briefcase is a secure communication tool that links the president to his military top brass and thence to rocket forces via the highly secret “Kazbek” electronic command-and-control network. Kazbek supports another system known as “Kavkaz.”
The U.S. equivalent, known as the “nuclear football,” carries the codes the president needs to authenticate an order to launch nuclear missiles when not in the White House.
Putin has repeatedly commented on his country’s nuclear capabilities and made thinly-veiled threats to use nuclear weapons throughout the Ukraine campaign, but the longer the conflict goes on, the more blatant his rhetoric and displays have been as well.
“The Kremlin threatens to use nukes if there’s an attempt on Putin’s life,” Koffler said. “The Russian nuclear doctrine could be interpreted as permitting such a move — “the very existence the Russian state at risk” clause — as Putin is the Commander-in-Chief of Russia,” noting that the Russian state is synonymous with Putin’s “regime.”
Koffler noted that the flagrant display follows an International Criminal Court warrant for Putin’s arrest on charges of abducting Ukrainian children – a charge levied against him by several organizations and Ukrainian officials. She argued that Putin wants to “intimidate anyone” who would consider arresting him and “give such authorities a pause … by creating in their minds what Moscow might do.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainly with the Israel-Hamas conflict now and the risk of a broader war in the Middle East erupting is increasing, dragging in Iran, the U.S., Russia, etc, so Putin is reminding the West that nukes are Russia’s ultimate strategic deterrent.”
Russia’s parliament took the first step on Tuesday toward revoking ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and its top lawmaker warned the United States that Moscow might even abandon the pact altogether, Reuters reported.
Reuters contributed to this report.