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Will Russia Go Nuclear?

Foreign policy expert Mikhail Troitskiy discusses international negotiation and Russia’s threat of nuclear war.

Mikhail Troitskiy is a professor of practice in Russian studies in the political science department at UW–Madison and a member of the UW’s Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia. Before coming to the UW, he was an associate professor from 2003 to 2022 at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, also known as MGIMO University. Troitskiy served as dean of the School of Government and International Affairs at MGIMO from 2017-2022 and taught at European University at Saint Petersburg from 2014 to 2022. From 2009 to 2015, he was also deputy director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Moscow office. 

In addition to teaching, Troitskiy has published multiple book chapters and research monographs on international relations, and he is a member of two major research groups: the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia and Processes of International Negotiation. On July 11, he’ll join the UW Now Livestream to share his insight on Russian foreign policy and discuss the potential of nuclear warfare against Ukraine and NATO.

Area of Expertise: 

My area of expertise includes conflicts, security, and politics in Eurasia, Russian foreign policy and U.S.-Russia relations, arms control, and international negotiation. My full bio and publications are available on

On The UW Now, I’ll Discuss: 

I will talk about the nuclear risks emanating from the ongoing war in Ukraine. I will address the reasons to worry about the possibility of a Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine or NATO territory or an act of sabotage at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine or Russia. My presentation will assess the patterns of Russian nuclear rhetoric and behavior through the lens of existing theories of nuclear escalation. I will also discuss the assumptions that the United States and other NATO allies may have about Russian nuclear behavior and the responses that they have been posting so far to the Russian nuclear blackmail.

One Thing I’d Like Viewers to Remember Is: 

My punchline would be that the Kremlin does not currently appear to have the guts to employ nuclear weapons against Ukraine or NATO. For many stakeholders in Russia who have a role in nuclear decision-making, regime survival remains a higher priority than finishing the war on Russia’s terms. And as long as the likelihood remains high of a Putinite political regime in Russia — with or without Putin — being ruined by Russia’s use of nuclear weapons, such use will not happen. For example, even the ruthless mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who just stopped short of toppling Putin and seizing power in Russia, has made it clear that the Kremlin needs to stop issuing threats of a nuclear holocaust. That said, it is important to continuously assess the chances of reckless behavior by coalitions of rogue actors, especially in the form of false flag or deniable acts of nuclear terrorism. It is not about giving Putin or his associates off-ramps but about carefully managing their desperation in the face of continued Ukrainian counteroffensive, economic sanctions, and domestic challenges to Putin and his political regime.

To Get Smart Fast, Read: 

I’d recommend this recent paper by Janice Gross Stein, one of the few living classics of international relations theory: 

If anyone is interested in my take, this op-ed from July 3 may be useful: 

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