Vladimir Putin continues to threaten life as the world knows it by continually reminding the global community that he is willing to use his country’s vast nuclear weapons arsenal as a deterrent against any perceived threat to the Russian Federation, including cases when Russia’s military suffers setbacks on the battlefields of Ukraine.
“Such threats are growing. It would be wrong to hide it,” Putin was quoted as saying in televised comments on December 7, before adding, “All of the means that we have (will be used), if necessary. This is a natural deterrent factor.”
Putin’s comments came just two days before he openly discussed the option of launching a nuclear war when, in a deeply troubling speech, that Russia may change its military doctrine from the retaliatory posture that it has maintained since the Soviet-era, to a first strike capability.
As part of his perpetual obsession with the United States, whom Putin has for more than two decades cast as his personal enemy, the Kremlin leader and former KGB colonel, explained his rationale to fundamentally change Russia’s nuclear posture from a defensive to an offensive focus as a response to what he alleged, without presenting evidence, were Washington’s secret plans to attack Russia.
If employed, Russia’s use of nuclear weapons would have devastating consequences for the world. A first strike with a conventional or tactical warhead against Ukraine – where Russia is currently losing a war that the Kremlin itself launched in February – or against the West, would undoubtedly trigger a response from NATO.
Such an exchange would return the world to the old Cold War concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD. Putin’s strategy would be to threaten and then launch a nuclear war that would intentionally trigger the end of a habitable Earth.
In essence, he would be willing to sacrifice civilization as it’s currently known simply because his own geopolitical strategy has failed.
In just under a quarter century since he came to power, Putin has repeatedly proven to be more than willing and fully capable of unleashing near-unspeakable acts of brutality against anyone who attempts to curb his ambitions.
The many recorded cases of war crimes committed by forces acting on his behalf in Chechnya, Syria, Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the re-establishment of a totalitarian police state (complete with closed cities, labor camps, the suspension of civil rights and political prisoners) run by the security services in Russia itself, are vivid reminders of these indisputable facts.
Violence, brutality, repression and destruction are his modus operandi. His support for extremist pro-Kremlin separatist groups across the former Soviet Union – in Crimea and the Donbas in Ukraine, Moldova’s Transnistria district, Georgia’s two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and more than 30% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory in Karabakh – has contributed to the ongoing destabilization of such a vast swathe of territory. That he has now raised the specter of a nuclear war should surprise no one.
In an effort to double down on his imperial claims, Putin has endorsed and sanctioned illegal annexation referendums on whole regions of Ukraine. By doing so, he has de facto placed these occupied areas under Russia’s nuclear umbrella; with the message being that any attempt to liberate a single part of this occupied Ukrainian soil would be grounds to launch a nuclear strike.
The famed Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov once note that “Nuclear war might come from an ordinary one. The latter, as is widely known, comes from politics.” Not since the Cold War during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and 1983’s Abel Archer scare – has the world so openly worried about the real possibility of a nuclear war. Putin’s genocidal campaign in Ukraine, and Russia’s subsequent increased isolation amongst developed countries, have backed the Kremlin into a corner. Putin’s continued references to re-orienting the Russian Federation to a first-strike nuclear posture should worry, not only Western military planners and lawmakers, but also the whole of the Free World
The simple fact is if Putin were to have his way and launch a nuclear exchange, the horrible reality of what would follow would be the end of all humanity.
The spread of propaganda by Russian-state media and their mouthpieces in the West – most notably FOX News and OANN, as well as leftist political allies on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Third World – regarding Russia’s potential use of nuclear weapons, increasingly use outrageous, conspiracy-based justifications, none of which come even remotely close to explaining why Putin has a right to end everyone’s existence simply to maintain his own iron grip on power.
The world should not be shocked by Putin’s rhetoric. At the time of publication, his soldiers, ostensibly under his orders as the commander-in-chief of Russia’s Armed Forces, continue to occupy Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, where they continue to threaten to weaponize the plant – in clear violation of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s warnings – if they find themselves in an untenable situation as Ukrainian troops edge ever-closer to liberating the facility.
Cold War leaders from Khruchshev to Reagan all understood the terrible price that would be paid in the event of a nuclear exchange. As early as the 1950s, Western leaders and their Soviet counterparts made the politically difficult decision to slowly draw down their nuclear arsenals.
Putin’s regime has outrightly dismissed the deliberate logic of détente and has instead embraced the paranoia of Joseph Stalin’s post-World War II Soviet Union. This most recently played out in November when Putin went so far as to cancel, at the last possible moment, a proposed meeting to discuss on-site weapons inspections, which are key to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START.
Deliberate moves that include turning his back on treaties aimed at lowering the threat of nuclear war are, without question, a result of the position Putin finds himself after 10 months of brutal warfare in Ukraine, where he did not find a population of 45 million people that were happy to be “liberated” by his invading forces, but has instead entrapped himself in a conflict where the Russian Armed Forces have had more than 90,000 troops killed, has knowingly committed war crimes and has no strategy to counter the Ukrainian people’s fierce resistance.
This has left Putin politically and strategically weakened for the first time.
If Sakharov’s prediction that a nuclear war may come from a conventional conflict that has roots in political missteps, the world needs to be on notice. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his archaic, neo-imperialist worldviews are and have been for many years a threat to the security of Europe and Russia’s neighbors.
Putin’s maniacal compulsion to start a nuclear war is not just a sinister ultimatum to world peace; it is, as the Cold War acronym spelled out, simply mad.