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Preparing for a Russian Nuclear Meltdown

The Wagner Group’s aborted rebellion in June, coupled with the protracted war in Ukraine, has renewed fears about the security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The risk of “loose nukes” or a vengeful leader going down with his finger on the trigger may seem far-fetched, but America must begin preparing for worst-case scenarios.

LOS ANGELES – Historically, Russia’s defeat in foreign wars, including the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, World War I, and the 1979-89 invasion of Afghanistan, has unleashed internal turmoil, ultimately leading to regime change. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has stoked fears of a repeat, but this time with a nuclear threat far exceeding that posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The prospect is chilling. If the Ukraine debacle destroys Putin’s domestic legitimacy, how should the United States (and the wider world) respond to the risk of “loose nukes,” or a vengeful leader going down with his finger on the nuclear button?

The answer is not clear, but a potential path forward comes from an unexpected source: the US State Department’s After Action Review on Afghanistan. Released in June, the unclassified version reflects on the lessons learned from the botched conclusion of the US military mission in that country, providing a template for better crisis planning.