Allusions to the use of nuclear weapons at the very beginning of the war in Ukraine worried people in Eastern Europe. People like my grandmother in Bulgaria who still remembers what happened at Chernobyl. Is it really possible for the situation to escalate in this way? Аnd what would the consequences be?

A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) since 1970. Leaders of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states are the People’s Republic of China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, also known as the P5 or permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Their 10th Review Conference has been postponed three times since its original dates of April 27-May 22, 2020, due to COVID-19. The new dates could be August 1-26 of this year.

Thomas Hanson is a retired U.S. foreign service officer. In his career with the U.S. Department of State, Hanson’s foreign postings included East Germany, France, Norway, the Soviet Union, Sweden and Georgia. He was Director for NATO and European Affairs at the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, D.C.

“This nuclear non-proliferation treaty that tries to control nuclear weapons, and the Chinese, the Russians and the USA are all in it, so if those talks go forward it’ll be a place where the big powers will be talking about some of these issues and could be a way to start a dialogue,” he said, adding: “It’s a long way off.”

Hanson said he does not think Russia will go that far as to use nuclear weapons. “They could do something like a demonstration explosion over the Black Sea as a warning to the USA, but I don’t see what they would gain by that. The whole international community would just be against them.”

He said that NATO would not react because Ukraine is not part of the alliance, but he thinks, despite the much higher than expected casualties and resilient defense of the Ukrainian people, Russian leaders may still believe their current strategy can work.

“I just hope that all sides will suddenly realize that it’s not going anywhere,” Hanson added. “That it’s just a disaster for everyone. They’ll be something like a compromise – some kind of neutrality for Ukraine plus some NATO guarantees to Russia.”