Public event

Russia’s nuclear doctrine: Examining the ‘escalate-to-de-escalate’ challenge

In June 2020, the Kremlin for the first time published a detailed document on Russian nuclear strategy. However, even this six-page document does not give a final answer to ‘the’ question: Would Russia deliberately escalate a limited conventional conflict by using ‘small’ non-strategic nuclear weapons to deter US or NATO intervention? US defence officials and some analysts have long alleged that Russia follows a so-called ‘escalate-to-de-escalate’ policy. Others, however, have argued that the threshold for Russian use of nuclear weapons has actually been raised and that there is no 'escalate-to-de-escalate' doctrine. What role does ‘escalate to de-escalate’ play in Russian nuclear strategy?

Guest speakers

Olga Oliker is Programme Director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group. Prior to joining Crisis Group, Oliker directed the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and held various research and management roles at the RAND Corporation, including as Director of the Center for Russia and Eurasia. Early in her career, she served at the US Department of Defense. Oliker holds a PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an MPP from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, and a BA from Emory University. She is a member of the Deep Cuts Commission and an Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Michael Kofman serves as Director of the Russia Studies programme at CNA and as a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the Russia and the former Soviet Union, specialising in Russian armed forces, military thought, capabilities, and strategy. Previously, he served as a Programme Manager and subject matter expert at National Defense University, advising senior military and government officials on issues in Russia and Eurasia. Mr. Kofman is also a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks, where he regularly authors articles on strategy, the Russian military, Russian decision-making, and related foreign policy issues. He runs a personal blog on the Russian armed forces.


Marina Henke is Professor of International Relations at the Hertie School. She researches and publishes on military interventions, peacekeeping, and European security and defense policy. Before joining the Hertie School, she was an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, specialising in international relations and at Princeton University where she was a Lecturer and Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Henke holds a PhD in Politics and Public Policy from Princeton University, a Double-MS in Development Studies and International Political Economy from Sciences Po Paris and the London School of Economics, and a BA in Economics, Politics and Latin American Studies from Sciences Po Paris.

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