Would Putin Dare Use Nukes in Ukraine? Tuesday is the final day of voting in so-called “referendums” in Russian-occupied Ukraine. The door-to-door poll workers collecting and coercing Ukrainians have finished their work.
The international community has condemned the votes for what they are, a sham. Even Serbia, a staunch Russian ally, has said that it will not recognize the results of the votes – Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said that to recognize the referendums would be “completely contrary” to Serbia’s policy of “preserving territorial integrity and sovereignty and … commitment to the principle of inviolability of borders.” Yet Moscow is proceeding as if it is projecting the will of the people of Ukraine.
Because of the extent of Ukraine’s recent military advances, especially in the Kharkiv region, Russia pushed through the referendums. Moscow fears that they may not only lose the gains they’ve made since invading in late February but perhaps even more territory from the Russian-proxy separatist “republics.”
Putin’s Political Gamble in Ukraine
While the votes themselves are a joke, Moscow’s official “reporting” of them is not. Its forces in the Kharkiv area are in disarray. They were surprised, routed, and lost thousands of square miles of territory in just days. Troops were ditching uniforms and heading to Russia in civilian clothing. The move to annex Ukrainian territory is a power play by President Vladimir Putin, who is running out of options.
The annexed territory, including parts of provinces that aren’t even in Russian hands yet – about 40% of Donetsk province is still under Kyiv’s control – will be declared by Moscow as part of Russia itself. The Kremlin will say that any attack by Ukraine will now be an attack on Russia. Meanwhile, Russia continues to threaten the use of nukes the way a preteen waves around his father’s gun.
Putin will address the joint session of the Russian Parliament on Friday, ostensibly to announce the referendums’ official results and ask for the Parliament to officially announce the annexation of Ukrainian territory as Russian. He and his Parliament will ignore that these referendums are illegal under international law.
And as “Russian territory,” arms shipments by the West would be considered an active measure to attack Russia. Putin, holding a pair of treys, is pushing all of his chips to the middle of the table, betting everything on escalation.
More Nuclear Brinkmanship
The Russians have hinted at using nuclear weapons since the opening days of the invasion. Those threats have gotten more overt now. The Kremlin wants the West to believe they will really use them.
Putin last week said that Russia would “make use of all weapon systems available” in a response to non-existent NATO nuclear threats.
The deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if Moscow deems it necessary due to conventional or nuclear attacks that threaten the country.
“Our enemies love to make grandiloquent statements [and] operate with the terms ‘freedom’, ‘democracy,’ ‘mission.’ In fact, this is just ritual verbal diarrhea,” he said on the Telegram channel app. “I have to remind you again … Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons if necessary. In predetermined cases. In strict accordance with the fundamentals of state policy in the field of nuclear deterrence [or] if we or our allies are attacked using this type of weapon. Or if aggression with the use of conventional weapons threatens the very existence of our state.”
In Russia Itself, Chaos Reigns
Putin is facing criticism at home as well as abroad. His policy of partial mobilization has not been well received by the people. Thousands of military-age men and veterans have bolted for Russia’s borders in an attempt to get away from the war.
Drunken, belligerent recruits have screamed at officers in places. They have been given rusted and old rifles as Moscow is having trouble equipping troops in the field. There is credible doubt that they can equip another 300,000 troops.
Conscription offices have been fire-bombed, and one officer was shot at a conscription office. Russia, which appeared unstoppable in January, now looks like a paper tiger, and it is reeling.
Expert Biography: Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. A proven military analyst, he served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.