As Czech nuclear safety site crashes, experts urge calm

Security experts insist Vladimir Putin’s decision to put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert is a gesture, not a genuine threat.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 01.03.2022 14:00:00 (updated on 02.03.2022) Reading time: 2 minutes

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear arsenal of high alert. The stomach-churning move was a reminder of the darkest days of the Cold War, after Putin warned that any nation which interferes in its invasion of Ukraine will see “consequences you have never before encountered in your history.”

Putin’s announcement led to an understandable sense of anxiety in the Czech Republic. When the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety (SÚJB) published basic precautions to take in the event of a nuclear attack, huge traffic caused the website to crash.

SÚJB officials assured the public that the probability of a nuclear war is negligible despite Putin’s inflammatory actions. But the flood of interest suggests alarm is high.

The website offers guidance on the use of civil protection shelters, providing a full list of permanent shelters in the Czech Republic. It also gives suggestions for preparing evacuation luggage, arranging systems of alternative communication with family members, using basements or other underground areas as shelter in the event of an attack, waiting inside shelters before venturing out due to radioactive fallout, and self-protection steps to protect against radioactive poisoning.

Expats.cz spoke with Association for International Affairs Research Fellow and Russian policy expert Pavel Havlíček about the real level of risk.

"The Czech people shouldn't be worried about this kind of rhetoric, which was to be expected from Putin," Havlíček said. "It illustrates that the Russian military operation is not developing according to initial expectations, and that he needs extra leverage over Ukraine as well as the Western world. His strong statements came just after the West imposed strong economic sanctions against Russia and took proactive measures vis-à-vis Ukraine, but they shouldn't affect Czech citizens and people living in Czechia more generally.”

“I would still describe the nuclear threat as an instrument of pressure rather than a real move towards launching a nuclear conflict, which would have powerful international implications for Russia, most likely leading to a global conflict. Current rhetoric should be put in a wider context, in which there is still a long way to go before nuclear weapons could be included in the conflict."

Yet alarm at the possibility of nuclear conflict isn’t limited to the Czech Republic. Austria is reporting shortages of iodine tablets used to purify water in the event of radioactive fallout.

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In this context, experts are keen to reassure the public that Putin’s threat is a gesture intended to strengthen Russia’s hand in negotiations over the future of Ukraine, rather than a sign of genuine intent to use nuclear weapons ushering in an era of mutually-assured destruction.

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