As the Austrian General Carl Von Clausewitz declared “War is the continuation of politics by other means ” it has been evident from the very beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that Putin’s political ambition has been solely focused on restoring both the grandeur and territory of the former Soviet Union. However, after a continuing series of humiliating setbacks both on the battlefield and on the world political stage Putin has now made it clear that any attack on the newly annexed (under duress) regions of Ukraine will be construed as an attack on Mother Russia and that he would use any means available in his arsenal to include the unthinkable – nuclear weapons – to respond in defending her.
Although Putin has previously escalated only to de-escalate, we have now entered a new phase of the conflict where weapons of mass destruction may be employed selectively on the battlefield. Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said he was moving his “deterrent forces” – code for nuclear weapons – to “combat ready” status. This has raised fears that Moscow could in fact use tactical nuclear weapons after the recent “annexation” of former Ukrainian territory. Russian military doctrine states that nuclear weapons would be used by Russia in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened.
As President Biden has repeatedly declared that “regime change” is one of the goals of the current conflict the threat of the use of Russian nukes, unfortunately, becomes even more likely. Putin has also up the ante by declaring that the United States “has set the precedent by bombing Japan in World War II. Unfortunately, he has headed down a slippery slope and NATO has not given him an off ramp.
What motivates Putin to resort to this unthinkable option are years of perceived and actual humiliation at the hands of the West after the demise of the former omnipotent Soviet Union. Combine this with the fact that previous bloodshed and Russian atrocities committed against Chechnya and Syria escaped unified condemnation and direct international intervention. In his mind he now has both the conviction and motivation to rebuild a new Russia regardless of the dire consequences that would dissuade any rationale and sane leader.
Yes billions of dollars in the United States and European military aid have perhaps turned the tide and enabled highly motivated Ukrainian forces to liberate occupied territory in the war in spite of clear signals from Washington that ‘’catastrophic consequences” will follow any use of non-conventional weapons. However, with former Ukrainian territory now considered by Putin as sovereign Russian territory and Ukraine urging that its NATO membership be fast tracked the war in Ukraine has now entered an even more dangerous phase. Unfortunately, a war with unintended consequences may soon be looming with potentially devastating results that the world has not seen since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Only time will tell, let’s hope cool and rationale heads prevail.