If Putin goes nuclear

Putin demonstrates what he'd like to put up NATO's colon

And I will fight on until it’s 1974 again. Or the Stone Age. Whichever I create first.

I don’t miss the Cold War, but apparently Russian President Vladimir Putin does. Either that, or he’s now clinically insane.

There aren’t a lot of other explanations for Putin’s nuclear chest-thumping in the past week or so. So far, it’s vintage Putin: swaggering braggadocio about Russia’s nuclear status that isn’t actually linked to a specific threat, but with enough dots to connect that any foreign observer can take his meaning. Like the mobster he is, Putin never directly threatens, but instead talks in circles, sort of the way a loan shark explains the many ways you could have an “accident” if you don’t pay up.

This isn’t as new as it looks. The Soviet and later Russian militaries have always been obsessed with nuclear weapons — yes, even more than the Americans — but mostly, in the last few decades, to compensate for the pitiful state of Russian conventional forces. Apparently, nuclear deterrence has now reverted back to Cold War dice-throwing.

(And by the way, I took a raft of shit was subjected to serious academic criticism for saying in my first book two decades ago that unreconstructed “Sovietism” in the Russian Armed Forces was the biggest threat to post-Cold War peace. I would gladly take an apology from the scholar who led that attack back in the 90s, but he’s dead.)

So what, exactly is Putin on about? Let’s look at this seriously for a moment, as if Putin isn’t a gangster or a lunatic. Is there actually a strategic logic to the use of a nuclear weapon anywhere in this current crisis?

Russian commentator Andrei Piontkovsky thinks that Putin, at least, believes there is. As Paul Goble reports:

Clearly, [says Piontkovsky], Putin does not seek “the destruction of the hated United States,” a goal that he could achieve “only at the price of mutual suicide.” Instead, his goals are “significantly more modest: the maximum extension of the Russian World, the destruction of NATO, and the discrediting and humiliation of the US as the guarantor of the security of the West.”

To put it in simplest terms, Piontkovsky continues, Putin’s actions would be “revenge for the defeat of the USSR in the third (cold) world war just as the second world war was for Germany an attempt at revenge for defeat in the first.”

(To read Piontkovsky’s interview in Russian, go here.)

If Putin is the old-school Soviet thug I now think he is, then his notional plan will look something like this:

1. Provoke a crisis within the current crisis. There are rumors, for example, that the shootdown of MH17 was actually supposed to be the shootdown of a Russian airliner that could then be used as a pretext for invasion. That’s a little too clever for me, but imagine a sudden Russian lunge toward, say, Odessa, and the US and UK take the recent advice of Ben Judah in the New York Times and send troops to hold the airport there. Now we have exactly the NATO-Russia standoff for which Putin has been striving for months.

2. Get some Russian soldiers killed. Make sure it looks right on RT, preferably with Ukrainian soldiers using Western weapons. (Or better yet, with NATO soldiers returning fire on innocent Russian “peacekeepers” and “aid convoys” or whatever idiotic ruse Putin uses the next time.)

3. Use a nuclear weapon. NATO shatters as everyone west of Warsaw loses control of their bladders.

I’m not saying this is a good plan, but it might be the one Putin and his cronies are considering.

Of course, this is pure crazy talk on many levels.

First, I can’t figure out how even Putin thinks he secures the future of Russia by becoming the first nation since 1945 to use nuclear weapons. If the Russian president’s goal is to make the world forget about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, place a permanent stain on the word “Russia” for all time, and unite the entire planet against his still-poor, still-weak country, then he is not only unhinged, he’s just plain stupid.

There are other considerations, of course. Exactly what does Putin think he’s going to hit with nuclear weapons? A NATO base in Poland, perhaps? A UK submarine pen? A US ICBM base in Wyoming? This is one of those ideas that probably sounded good after that fourth vodka at 3 am in the Kremlin, hanging out with the boys and getting a shoulder rub from Alina Kabayeva.

Indeed, you can almost see it: jackets open, ties loosened, cigarette smoke hanging in the air, the clink of glasses, the generals and the spooks sitting around smugly talking about NATO having a collective pants-browning over the display of Russian nuclear might.

Unfortunately (for them) it’s not 1974. It doesn’t work that way. No matter how Putin’s team or his courtiers in the Russian media try to spin the story, the first use of a nuclear weapon is still the first use of a nuclear weapon. Russians, raised on the idea that only the bad guys would ever use nukes first, will know exactly what happened. And then they will wait for the cloud of fallout to hit them — as it will within a few days if the target is in European NATO.

And some of them — especially the smarter ones who are already trying to get the hell out of Russia — will wonder why their lives and futures are being sacrificed for the sake of the memory of a country that ceased to exist while they were still toddlers.

How any of this helps Russia is beyond me. Even if the exchange stops at one weapon — and I don’t think any U.S. President needs to retaliate by adding yet more poison to the planet, but that’s just me — Russia will forever be contained by the international community as the Worst Country In The World.

Of course, if Putin thinks the exchange will stop with one weapon, then he’s the most confident gambler since Hitler in 1936.  (I’d also bet that the Chinese are probably rooting for Putin to get off the leash and go nuts, because it will allow them to finally get the stink of Mao Zedong’s crazy off of them and make it stick forever to Moscow.)

If the exchange doesn’t stop at one weapon, then the rest is irrelevant, and you and I will likely not be sitting here calmly reading and reflecting on international affairs.

Putin isn’t going to live forever, and after using a nuclear bomb his successors will have two choices: either revert to complete Soviet-like isolation and self-sufficiency in world that will forever hate Russia (and live off pickled herring and apple juice for another century) or abjectly throw the Russian Federation on the mercy of international opinion, and engage in prolonged atonement that would almost certainly require demilitarization of the Russian state and war crimes tribunals for the surviving leaders and generals.

I used to think the chance of any of this was about zero. But of course, that’s the problem with “about zero:” it’s not actually “zero.” Anything that’s not impossible has a finite chance of happening. Putin’s provocations might have only a million to one shot of producing a nuclear event, but if he tries those provocations a million times…well, you do the math. I keep waiting for cooler heads to prevail in Moscow and thought this might have reached some kind of resolution over the summer. But that was 2500 Ukrainian deaths — and one innocent airliner — ago.

Still, I’m used to Soviet…er, sorry….Russian leaders talking about nuclear weapons, and so I’m assuming this is business as usual, circa 1980. But the fact that Putin is willing to throw away Russia’s future for the sake of a Soviet past means that this crisis is not close to being over. It also means that there is no way to deal with this crisis through negotiation: if Putin is so locked in the past that he thinks he can make nuclear threats, he’s not likely to change course now.

I also worry about one more thing, on our side rather than theirs. Putin is taking huge risks based on the idea that Barack Obama is the weakest American president in modern history. The Kremlin has plenty of reason to think so, especially after the graceless powder we took in Syria a year ago. There is no question that President Obama is among the least, uh, decisive leaders the White House has had in a long time, but even weak Presidents can only be pushed so far.

I worry that Putin, like other Soviet — sorry again, Russian, I mean Russian — leaders thinks that America is as leader-centered as Russia is, and will not understand that at some point the American foreign policy establishment will create a response that will totally surprise the Kremlin. That’s how major wars get started, but it’s not clear that Putin knows this, or cares.

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96 comments

  1. A very good post, but I also see Putin the gambler and put these scenarios to you:

    One of the trademarks of Putin’s annexation of East Ukraine has been to cross red lines a bit at a time while denying he has. The 3 T64 tanks, SAM systems including the infamous Buk, the cross border shelling, the armoured column (where there just happened to be journalists watching), then when there is little of no or little reaction from the western media or politicians, take the green light and constantly escalate until he reaches the next red line. For this reason I think a sudden dash to Odessa is unlikely, there will just be a creeping take over, this maybe with ceasefires to bank the gains, which then breakdown if Kiev is not towing the Putin line or they decide to increase their territory towards Transnistria. Of course this will also be dependent upon what Moldova does next because, in my opinion the fallout from their signing of the EU agreement is far from over along with their desire to join NATO, the same applies to Georgia, they maybe the next dominoes after Ukraine.

    Which leads on to the next scenario, where I was reading a translated Russian view that it could take as little as 500 little green men to take over Estonia and also another on using nuclear threats to project power and shape scenarios. Now if NATO responds with a rapid reaction force and Putin then ups the stakes, by warning that if they intervene in Russian speakers right to self (Green Men!) determination they will say nuke Bonn and Naples (it won’t be France or UK where we have our own nukes) and won’t we wish we had the anti-ICBM shield that Obama reset for Putin. Are all European NATO and EU countries prepared to risk these cities to save 1.34 million Estonian’s? If NATO doesn’t intervene, this would split and finish NATO as a credible defence organization and probably finish the EU, both of which are Putin aims. Again, I think we both know which president would blink first if the US was asked if it would risk LA for Tallinn and we both know it wouldn’t be Putin and so does he. We know Putin is to a degree a reckless gambler, whether he would do it I think will come down to internal politics as his goal now is staying in power at all costs. The 2011-12 demonstrations scared him and in the past he has used 7%+ growth to placate the population. The economy is now tanking with currently little prospect of a recovery and this is why he has taken the nationalist ‘Novorussya’ route, but on any adventure he can’t afford to lose and survive and the Putin popularity fix, especially in the light of increasing economic difficulties is going to require bigger and bigger and more regular hits.

    MAD is the basis our current nuclear defence strategy, but again I was reading a Russian article on their belief of a winner and losers in a nuclear exchange where the reality is that 30-60% of a country’s population would be killed and Russia has better civil defences, an anti-ICBM missile ring around Moscow and a more dispersed population over a bigger land area. Now I accept that there will be a nuclear winter, high radiation levels, but Chernobyl has shown that there are big variances of radiation levels in Ukraine and Belarus due to local weather conditions at the time of the accident and contrary to expectation the wildlife in the highest radiation zones has thrived and they don’t all have three eyes and two heads! None of us know what the nuclear winter and other effects will be after a major nuclear exchange and we all hope we never have to find out. Would it be anywhere near as bad as worst case speculation suggests, who knows? Would, in my opinion, the most dangerous man on the planet, Putin, gamble on this to stay in power rather than a demise like Gaddafi or Saddam Hussain?

    • I have lived quite some time in Estonia, and I have to say that the situation in Estonia is quite different to Ukraine. There are many russian-speakers, especially in the east of the country, but I would say that the heart of the country is Tallinn. In Estonia there is no large city which has a russian majority and from my experience about Estonians, they will not react “neutral” to “green man” whereever they come from. In Estonia, they even honor soldiers of the German SS Divisions (strange isnt it?), because they have fought against the russians. So I would bet that any hidden invasion of Estonia by russia would provoke an instant military action by Estonian forces, even if they bit off more then they can chew.

      • I agree. Also, I’ve been to Tallinn twice, and really liked it (although it was during the Soviet era), and hope to visit again some day.

        • I was in Tallin in the summer of 2013, between my school years studying in Scandinavia. I was there because of a snafoo with the Swedish immigration service, so my mind was elsewhere during the visit. I wish I could have taken it in more.

        • If you do, visit the KGB museum in Tallinn and take the guided tour. Top floor of Viru hotel. The tour guide told us stories so incredible I couldn’t believe most of it, but later I did some research and most of the stories would ring true. Not a fan of CIA methods and standards either, but the KGB people were truly mentally ill. They were all brainwashed by the system they had created themselves. How does that even happen?

          In the end, during the fall of the Soviet Union, they fled from the HQ and left most of their equipment behind; which by the way looks like western equipment from the 1950s in comparison, along with some documents. It’s like a time capsule. They had been spying on every customer and resident of the hotel, staff, taxi drivers, everyone. They were extraordinarily interested in western tourists, even random conversations were recorded. I guess in their books everyone from the West was a spy. Their lack of hi-tech spy equipment meant that all of the hotel staff had to work for them. Often at gun point. Sometimes staff would just disappear. It was crazy. The hotel was a KGB front designed to host people from the West. Politicians and other people of interest were taken there of course, given food, drinks, girls, anything to loosen them up just enough so that they’d get something, anything, on tape. It was 1991 and they were still as paranoid and crazy as Stalin ever was.

          I have to say taking the tour was one of the most interesting, eye opening event. It really changed the way I think of the Soviet Union. Now I just feel sorry for them. Seeing the level of their technology, I don’t think they were a threat to anyone but themselves. It is much easier to understand Putin and his henchmen after taking that tour. It’s much easier to understand Russia. Which is why I don’t think they’re mature enough to be a superpower. I don’t think the Soviet Union was. Russia needs to go to therapy for at least a century before returning to the arena. They don’t even know what to export but weapons, hockey players and paranoia. The country is a mess, has been for at least 200 years. To run that mess they needed an ex-KGB thug, which was an ugly hack but it worked, until now. Like using a nail for an emergency fuse, you will have to replace it with a working fuse sooner rather than later or the whole house will burn down.

          Unfortunately, as it appears to be with all KGB folks, they seem to lack every aspect of self-criticism. Putin will not step down himself and the opposition is too weak for regime change. I’m afraid the only reasonable way to go is for the West to start supporting, e.g. financing, supplying arms, to the opposition in Russia. Timing is crucial. The West has been lazy. We should have supported the opposition from the beginning, it’s very naive to think Putin’s Russia wouldn’t do the same in the West. In fact, it was very naive to think that after the Soviet Union is no more, we can just sit back and relax. The rise of the Nashi Youth Movement is a great example why that was a huge mistake.

  2. This is a very interesting article, and I have enjoyed reading it. May I suggest a second scenario based on the threats to Ukraine’s defence minister that Russia has threatened the use of tactical nuclear weapons if Ukraine continues to resist? Russia has started making claims of the use of Phosphorus bombs by Ukrainian forces and has started using footage of such events from Iraq and elsewhere on their domestic media as proof. Let’s say the domestic media furore over this continues unabated and reaches fever pitch. One day a tactical nuclear weapon with 1 kiloton yield is used against Ukrainian troops near Donetsk killing hundreds. Russia denies this (after all they have no troops in Ukraine or so they claim) and instead talks about Ukrainian use of Phosphorus bombs in an elliptical manner. Days afterwards proof emerges that convinces Western governments that such a device is used. Does it follow that China, India, Brazil, and other mid-ranking powers would see the need to condemn Russia and not instead take its word that Russia is innocent? Would Italy, Germany, and France be moved to do the drastic amount of sanctions that the US, the UK and Poland would demand? What would it take for the world to wake up if the descent into geopolitical lunacy is as gradual as it has already been?

      • ‘Neturon Bombs’? – I presume the Russians have these remaining? They have reduced blast and heat, but enhanced radiation, most of which is prompt. Would these be the ideal ‘deniable’ tactical nuclear strike option for the Russians?

        • The radiation would be detected very quickly like it was for Chernobyl, but who knows what the Moscow propaganda machine would report?

          I can’t see tactical nuclear weapons being used in Ukraine as Russia can achieve it’s goals without needing to. The only thing that might possible change this is if the west provides large amounts military aid to Ukraine, so it becomes a stalemate or Ukraine starts winning, but at the moment, this sadly is looking very unlikely. All they talk about is red lines and costs and is all part of their political speak which including not mentioning the i-word, invasion.

          “There is no question that President Obama is among the least, uh, decisive leaders the White House has had in a long time, but even weak Presidents can only be pushed so far.”

          I hope Obama has got a good supply of red pens and a world map as I think he will be needing a lot of them in his last 2 years of office, where the emperor is seen as naked.

          Unfortunately, if you appease and implicitly encourage the aggressor they become more forward and confident as a result, when the appeaser’s patience runs out this is much more likely to lead to major conflict, where his efforts are more likely to be seen as half hearted and weak. It all very much reminds me of the 1930’s and the slide into WWII, where Britain and France stopped the appeasement by declaring war and then had a final round of softness with the phoney war. All of this encouraged Hitler and his aggression.

          • Firstly – must get the spelling right! ‘Neutron’ – not ‘Neturon’. Sorry for that – typing whilst distracted.

            Re your other points – yes, I agree. We are making the same mistakes we made in the 1930s and Putin is using the same playbook as the Austrian Corporal. Have we learned nothing from history??? I do think the parallel with 1936/38 is quite apt, more so than 1914. In fact you could argue 1914 is more relevant to Asia (China-US relations) whilst 1938 is more relevant to Russia-NATO. In both cases, it is weakness and lack of leadership by the West – specifically the US – that is courting disaster of global proportions.

          • I must admit I’m split over this. This observation is probably meaningless, but I think I’ll air it anyway.

            This situation sort of reminds me of the final season of “Breaking Bad”, specifically a scene where Walt and Skyler argue about her taking their kids out of the house so they can’t become cannon fodder for Walt’s meth rivals. Skyler lists all of the options she has to keep the kids out — claim domestic abuse, send them to another state — but prideful Walt gleefully shoots each one of them down. He only shuts up when Skyler realizes she has only one viable option: bide her time and wait for his cancer to come back.

            If Putin wants to build an empire, maybe we should make the deal with the devil and let him. Give Putin what he wants and then isolate him, and let him deal with the challenges of empire management. Putin originally had a long term plan for resurrecting Russia in the form of an EU-like economic union, and he had the tentative support of western leaders. The only reason he has escalated the situation in Ukraine was that he panicked, then decided to build his empire in a quicker, more haphazard way.

            Putin is alienating his allies — he recently made dismissive comments about Kazakhstan which has made their president consider leaving Moscow’s economic union. Putin will not be able to control the lands he’s gained — he needs 100,000 troops to occupy Ukraine, but he has only sent 1,000 in the country and about 60,000 on the border. He struck a pipeline deal with China — while the Chinese plan to hijack Siberia and the Far East and make it their “near abroad.” He responds to EU sanctions with his own — which might only make the Russian economic situation worse.

            If NATO knew how to frame the message and play their cards right (which I have seen no evidence of them doing, but let’s wait for the summit in Wales), they could prove to the world by Putin’s own example that his actions have been folly of the highest magnitude. They could pull out of their embassies, that way Putin would be forced with the reality that he, not the west, is the author of his own misfortune. Maybe the best option is to give the bully what he wants while silently watching the cancer run its course through his body.

            • Points for the “Breaking Bad” analogy. I think you have a point, and should read Ben Judah’s piece today in the NYT, which says: Either arm Ukraine or force it to surrender (for now).

                • Say what you will about Chamberlain, but at least he wasn’t dealing with someone who had a nuclear arsenal. That is an elephant in the room the western governments aren’t discussing in public, but that is why they have forsaken military support up ’til now. I also think public opinion will keep them from responding to Putin, even if he uses a nuke in Ukraine. Look at how we reacted to the idea of war in Syria.

            • I’m sorry, but you’re talking about this as if countries are some kind of abstract entities. These are not just lines on the map. There are actual people dying there! And if Putin is allowed to do as he wishes, tens – if not hundreds – of thousands will die. Ukrainians are determined to fight. Even if they are doomed to an inevitable defeat. In tiny Chechnya at least 50000 people died. Ukraine has 40 times the population of Chechnya. Can we in the West consider ourselves moral human beings while knowingly abandoning Ukraine to suffer enormous casualties?

              • If Putin confirms he will resort to a nuclear weapon, do you think public opinion in the west will silently approve the prospect of millions (if not billions) dying just to save a small, weak country that most people didn’t care about until a few months ago and probably (for good reason) would consider reckless for sticking to such an outmatched fight? As much as I hate to admit it, people do not work that way. They’ll want to sell Ukraine to the highest bidder before they let someone push the button.

                Putin’s ambitions of a revived Russian Empire are a pipe dream. His irrational decisions have only made that outcome more hopeless. His allies are abandoning him. His responses to the sanctions are more damaging to the Russian economy than the sanctions themselves. He cannot guarantee that the west will treat Russia as if nothing happened and will resume trade with them. Any empire he builds will not have the power and influence of the U.S.S.R, and will probably not last long for it. Is there really a better option this mess is giving us?

                • I’m afraid this is a very short-sighted approach. If the West gives in on Ukraine at a threat of a nuclear strike today, what’s there to stop them from giving in on Estonia? Then Poland? Where does it stop? Or do you think Ukraine is the end of Putin’s ambition? And of course the West will resume trade! Or rather it will never stop. Europe needs gas and Putin’s got it. So far the EU has been utterly reluctant to sever the ties with Russia despite the rhetoric and endless expressions of “concern”. Yes, life will suck in Russia, but the Russians believe that by tightening their belts they are fighting the “evil West” and this can last for decades. If Europe acted decisively and stopped paying Putin back in March when the Russian troops started flooding Crimea perhaps we would not have this mess in Ukraine altogether. As things are now the West seems to think that by playing nice they can avoid confrontation. In the meantime Putin gets stronger and more obnoxious.

                  • Like I said, my original observation was probably meaningless. I admit that there would be enormous risks to such a strategy. But there are even bigger risks to engaging Putin and sending him over the deep end in his paranoia, especially if he has a personality disorder like some on this thread have speculated.

                    I happen to come from a family of people like that. And when they can (especially if they feel they have the right), they do “scorch earth” if somebody crosses them.

                  • You are right to point out the strategic implications of NATO failing to respond to Russian nuclear threats, let alone actual use, and I think your analysis is spot on. But the spectre of global thermonuclear war, with hundreds of millions, if not billions dead or dying, and civilisation back to the medieval age, and the global environment wrecked, would I think make Western leaders – especially the current crop – really hesitate before they responded to Russian nuclear use. The Russians would be cunning about this. They’d not launch a massive nuclear assault on NATO. Instead, they would use a low-yield nuclear weapon, on a military target against a non-nuclear NATO state, or in Ukraine. The effect would be to force NATO to back down and shatter its credibility, and thus destroy NATO as a functioning alliance. Putin would gamble that the West is not prepared to risk MAD over Ukraine or even Estonia or Poland. He could be right. I think there would be outright panic in NATO capitals after a Russian nuclear weapon detonated, and political leaders would be faced with an appalling choice – the destruction of NATO and the risk of more Russian aggression, or risking humanity’s future by undertaking commensurate nuclear retaliation. If NATO tried a conventional response, this might be militarily effective in attacking Russian forces, but would not be seen as strategically sufficient, and would fail to deter further Russian expansion, and could even lead to escalation to further nuclear use.

                    If its 1982 and the Soviet Union is leading the Warsaw Pact on a massive invasion of NATO, rolling massed armoured forces to the English Channel. That’s a war of survival. But a single low-yield nuclear weapon detonated in an isolated are of Western Ukraine, or over a small town in eastern Estonia, in 2014 or 2015, poses a very different challenge. I’m not sure if NATO has really thought about how it would respond to such an attack.

                  • To retain credibility I think NATO would have to respond that it would trigger full retaliation. This would in effect be a MkII Cuban crisis. Although I’m not sure Putin would back down.

                    What really concerns me is that Putin has created the scenario that he knows that since the election results of 2012 (with allegations of widespread vote rigging) and where he has now broken their constitutional law over Ukraine that he has no choice but to stay president for life. In the past economic growth has kept him popular, but now with a soft oil price due to soft demand and fracking, no industrial modernization and sanctions, this is no longer the ‘press the button’ on living standards popularity route. The only viable proven alternative to this is the ‘press the button’ nationalism route, but one loss on this will be the end of his presidency, much the same as General Galtieri over the Falklands. Therefore he must always play for a win to give the populous their Putin popularity fix. This survival at all cost from a position of weakness is a very dangerous scenario and could lead to I’m going to die, but so are you as he presses the nuclear button!

                    I’m sure after all the slaughter in Eastern Ukraine if Putin was asked by a journalist: “What price do you put on a human life President Putin?” He would scratch his chin thinking for a minute and reply “Mine or everybody else’s in the world?”

        • A nuclear explosion cannot be camouflaged. They are faster than any other kind, and this produces a characteristic spike on seismographs. Also, satellites would observe the light, and radiation monitors would report the composition and signature of the fallout, which can pinpoint the source of the fissionable materials in many cases.

      • I think I didn’t explain myself very well here for which I apologize. I meant that Putin would use phosphorus bombs supposedly used by Ukraine as a justification for using a tactical nuke.

  3. My Grandmother was Ukrainian, and lived through the Red Army re-imposing the Russian imperial yoke on her country. She would have been horrified to see these events playing out.

    This isn’t a reversion to the Soviet order. This is about Russian ethnic chauvanism and irridentism. The old Tsarist empire was at least as cruel and imperialistic as the commies, and Lenin just changed the management. Peter the Great, lionized by so many in the West, was a mass murdering monster, and his imperial land grabs, megaprojects built with slave labour, and state-security terror machinery was copied by Iosef Stalin. Vladimir Putin really seems to want a republican version of the old Russian Empire.

    Putin is only leaving the Kremlin in shackles or a coffin. So provoking a crisis would justify emergency powers that would keep him in power indefinitely. At least, with the post-Khrushchev USSR, the government (like the post-Mao PRC) was run by a committee, and nutbars outvoted by more level-headed peers. But Putin has, almost to the degree of Stalin, centralized control and put everyone in fear of his GRU goons. The best hope for Russia and everyone else is toughened sanctions that damage Russia’s economy to the extent that the Russian people have nothing to lose from deposing Putin.

    • Well said Adam. If only the rest of the west understood their (Russian) history as well as you do. Putin is a runaway train waiting for a wreck and it makes me ill to see the rest of the west reacting as a bunch of timid naysayers. History has seen the ilk of Putin before with similar geopolitical consequences. This is not going to end well unless the west changes course.

    • I have heard it argued by a Moscow commentator that Putin’s strategies of tit-for-tat sanctions will only accelerate the collapse of both the Russian economy and his regime. I do hope (though somewhat doubt) that happens before he decides to dish out the nuke(s).

      As I have said below, I have heard a suggestion that the Russian military leadership would depose Putin themselves before putting a nuclear target on their own backs. Since Tom has a background in discussing how the Russian military works, I would like to hear his opinion.

  4. Ever considered the possibility of our friend Putin suffering of narcissistic personality disorder, all the telltale signs are there: no emotions, thinking of himself as God’s gift to save Russia, an unhealthy body cult, convinced he fully deserves whatever he can lay his hands on, surrounds himself with a pack of brown nosers, … Let’s hope Obama finds good use in sending in some B-2’s to bomb several strategic and tactical targets in rebel held Ukraine, and play the green man game.

      • For all those that praise Putin, “the master strategist,” he strikes me more as just being a delusional, grandiose thug as some others will depict him instead. As this crisis continues to play out, it’s hard not to label him crazy. Maybe crazy like a fox, but he’s playing a reckless game of chicken with the West and a miscalculation is bad for everyone. I agree with what Brzezinski said this weekend and hope someone is making sure China is really keyed-in to the possible consequences of all this and not just wrapped up in breaking ground on that new gas pipeline or eyeing other ways to capitalize on the crisis.

        Side Note: Reminds me how a friend of mine told me a few months back after the Crimea invasion that he had catered an event Putin attended here in the US (when he was PM, I think) and that the Russian security detail was giving them all these special instructions and making them redo/remake things to an absolutely absurd extent. I remember joking with him that maybe the Russians thought they were all planted CIA spooks trying to spike his food with polonium-210. Of course, Putin had a taster for everything served which none of the other VIPs had. I believe this guy has more than a whiff of Comrade Stalin’s paranoia to say nothing of a personality disorder(s).

      • It’s not as big of an issue as most people think. I’m pretty sure that if Warsaw got nuked and then a small tactical nuke was misplaced and then used in revenge by some disgruntled Poles it might set things back into balance. After all, Putin is using the threat of nukes because it levels the playing field against a stronger adversary. The same is true against the Russians. An already nuked Poland with the ability to get some revenge isn’t going to be as scared as someone who hasn’t been nuked yet.

  5. Oh gimme a break. This BS about using nukes is a typical Russian bluff. Putin has absolutely a track record of zero risking his own a..e during his lifetime (including all his geopolitical gamplings). In Russia it is always mužiks (read conscripts, innocents civilians and and the other “humble of the earth”) that are supposed to carry all the risks. Of course Putin tries to stay in power, but that implies, above all, staying alive. And risking a nuclear self destruction is hardly a best way of achieving that.

  6. Nice analysis.

    Why do bad guys rarely if ever commit suicide unlike good guys like Robin Williams who fell people’s hearts and souls with laughter and merriment?

    Putin lives for his sadism, so I think he’s bluffing. I do believe letting a nuke fly would be tantamount to suicide, and I don’t think he’s suicidal. Mad, perhaps. Maybe. I can’t be sure. A mad genius perhaps, and geniuses can out-think themselves and end up tripping over their own thinking. Hitler did. Not that Putin’s Hitler — but he is somewhat of a hybrid of historical tyrannical megalomaniacs.

    What’s unnerving is the seeming support he has from those on the far “Left” and far “Right” in the West. It’s surreal. As though I’ve been transported back to the 1930’s and I can see it all so clearly now and all the questions I had about that time and how Hitler came to power and managed to do what he did are now answered. People are weak. People are cowards. Most people. There are a few holdouts who are brave and noble — but they’re few.

    I mention one of the few in my blog post juxtaposed with the spineless cowards.

    http://catcherinthelie.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall/

  7. Last summer I was in Kyiv, the people there were optimisitc about European future for Ukraine, everyone was sure that president Yanukovich will seign the deal. I had very bad feelings about the situation. He (president) was already closing independant journals or buying them out, now we know what he was preparing.
    1. Russia is a direct continuation of Mongol empire, and Putin is a new Khan and he has to show to whole world that he is preapre to kill like in Siege ofBaghdad in 1258.
    He is not going to put nuclear bomb on UKraine or France or Britan, it’s better to bomb a place which is not a capital, easy to reach and has some symbolic minings to the word. The Polish city of Gdansk, birth place of Solidarity I think is a good pick. The world will be shocked for a week longer that it was for Malesian aireplane, and will do what ever Putin want.
    2. The western politicians and journalists consider Russia as a postsoviet society. This is not true. In Russia only in 1861 slavery was abolished, many think that it was feudalism which was abolished but in 1772 Cathrine the Great introduced right to sell serf without land in normal terms it is just slavery. Russian people long for strong leader like Putin, the biger bandit the better it their primitive tribal mentality. Russian can sufer a lot if they knew that other people are afraid of them.
    3. There is no concept of true and law in Russian politics, because this is nomadic bandit culture. True and law for them depends from the situation, situation change law change, it’ s why Russians do not keep the promises, even in busines.

  8. Putin is simply telling America to back off from the neighbouring Soviet Union pockets. He may not use a Nuclear weapon but he will definitely do so to defend any formidable resistance by NATO or US. Ukraine ought to talk & prevent from becoming a battle ground

  9. In the midst of this worrying escalation, especially in Ukraine, I actually find myself more consoled by your opinion than the dread I feel opening a newspage to read about the latest rebel gains. There are small snippets of relief. That Ukraine is considering joining NATO, that Donald Tusk has become EU president as a direct response to Putin’s actions, that the US government sounds like they’re going to cut through some red tape to provide weapons to Ukraine. Even talk of nuclear threats don’t sound nearly so bad if it heads off further encroachment by making Putin’s Russia a pariah state. My past self from five years ago wouldn’t like it, but the shades of grey dotting the world map are clearing up into white and black. For what it’s worth, thanks for making fears of doom and gloom into more rational and predictable ones.

  10. An interesting question you raise Tom. If Putin did actually do it – use a nuclear weapon for the first time in anger since 1945 – how would NATO and the world react? A Russian nuclear strike on a NATO state would demand a like response – but that would raise the risk of a Khanian ‘ladder of escalation’ emerging. Would NATO baulk at taking that step of responding, even if a city in Eastern Europe was a radioactive ruin? Or Putin could be more nuanced by using a nuclear weapon against a non-civilian target, or in a demonstration shot. Its the Russian ‘de-escalation’ doctrine that worries me. They really do believe that nuclear first use will de-escalate, not escalate, a conflict.

    So how would NATO respond? Certainly there would be outrage from Western powers, but would it drive a commensurate response? I’m not sure. Putin may be gambling that NATO would not risk global thermonuclear war by responding to a single (perhaps low-yield – see my comment on neutron weapons above) detonation. The challenge is that the moment NATO responds with a retaliatory strike against Russian territory, the risk of counter-responses and an escalatory cycle rises. I think this would be upper-most in the minds of NATO leaders, but at the same time, they must also realise that to not respond, or to respond meekly (‘more robust sanctions’ or vague threats of ‘costs’ as Secretary of State Kerry would put it) would mean the end of NATO, and the end of US global influence and power. No one would take the US seriously if it did nothing or just used harsh language and ineffectual sanctions in the face of a nuclear attack by Russia.

    China may remain inscrutably silent, but absent a strong US response, it could be tempted to become much more aggressive in Asia in going after disputed territories. A failure to respond to a Russian nuclear attack would certainly render meaningless US Extended Nuclear Deterrence security guarantees to Japan, South Korea, and even Australia. It would fundamentally change the whole Asian strategic environment in the most negative way.

    But most fundamentally, the genie would be out of the bottle, and the ‘taboo’ (which I never really believed in) on nuclear use would be definitely broken. Other would-be nuclear powers like Iran could throw caution to the wind and openly and brazenly get nuclear weapons. We’d have to worry that North Korea could make good on wild and ‘irrational’ nuclear threats. Expect Japan and South Korea to get their own nukes. Expect Saudi Arabia, Egypt and maybe Turkey to do the same. India and Pakistan would seriously prepare for nuclear war on the subcontinent. The path to nuclear use in future conflicts would be much quicker and easier because the taboo had already been broken and states would not have to worry about international opproprium in being the first state to use nuclear weapons since 1945 – Russia had already taken the fall for that.

    If Putin really did this, even with a low-yield tactical nuke against a non-military target, we are living in a different world. The future would be dark, dangerous and very scary, and I’d argue, much more risky than during the Cold War. I don’t know if NATO leaders are cognisant of the risks, but they should be. The Alliance could be presented with its ‘do or die’ moment – a nuclear strike or even a nuclear threat against a member state. If it cowers in the face of such a threat, its finished and so is international security and stability. If it responds with a commensurate retaliation then the ball is firmly back in Putin’s corner, and based on what you talk about in terms of his personality and psychology, I’d not be confident that he would not respond with further strikes. Are we damned if we don’t and dead if we do?

    • The US could do much worse than bringing forward the installation of the anti-ICBM missile system in Poland before 2018. The system goes live in Romania in 2015 to cover the perceived Iranian threat but for greater security they will need more European sites.

      Likewise, the development of an anti-ICBM version of the Aster 30 missile, which has a development time scale going into the 2020’s should IMO be brought forward.

      • I agree – an enhanced comprehensive BMD system in Eastern Europe, directed at Russia, should be a step that the US is prepared to take. Such a system does not need to undermine the credibility of their strategic nuclear deterrent forces against CONUS, but should contribute to the defence of Europe against Russian nuclear threats, potentially with INF and Tactical Nuclear Forces. We need to checkmate Russia’s nuclear capability vis a vis NATO as quickly as possible because the Russians will use that – as an implicit threat – to paralyse NATO responses to Russian special warfare actions against the Baltic states.

      • This. Plus Poland should start talking to the Israelis or the Indians about purchasing their own nukes.

    • One possibility I have heard elsewhere (not from what I would call a reliable source, but I’m still curious) is that the Russian General Staff dislikes Putin and that they (or the oligarchs) would depose him before the situation ever got a chance to escalate to a nuclear confrontation.

      Is that a possibility? I recall theories that Stalin was assassinated — and all the better for it, since he apparently wanted to launch another major war. Are there people in Russia who would be scared and fed up enough to finally stand up to Putin, and take the country in a better direction in his absence?

      • I’ve been hearing this for the past 15 years. And yet here we are – Putin is still alive and in power. I am beginning to believe that all these mysterious powers that could end Putin’s reign are a pure fiction and Putin rules single-handedly.

    • I’m no expert, but NATO does have plenty of non-nuclear capabilities. A real concentrated air-strike can do way more damage than a nuke. My guess is if a nuke was used against a non-civilian target the response would follow via conventional weapons. I mean we do have those stealth bombers for a reason, no to mention weaponized drones. Of course, if a nuke hits a city… Yeah, I don’t know what NATO would do. Millions of dead Russian civilians doesn’t really make up for millions of dead civilians in another country.

      • Not convinced that conventional air strikes could do more damage than a nuke. Firstly, conventional weapons these days are by nature precision-strike weapons, and tend to have less explosive punch than simple dumb bombs because they don’t need to have higher yield – the precision aspect compensates. So in a conventional attack you are talking a few, or even lots, of precision strikes. Certainly these can be ‘more effective’ than one nuke, but they don’t ‘do way more damage’. The effects of even small nuclear weapons are way greater – with yields of a kiloton or even less – still being much higher than the largest air delivered conventional weapon (MOAB or Fuel-Air Munitions). Secondly, conventional weapons don’t generate the political shock of a nuclear weapon. States can quickly recover from precision conventional weapons – they can’t recover quickly from nuclear attacks. And nuclear attacks generate fundamental strategic effects that conventional strikes don’t. Thirdly, the world is becoming used to conventional weapons. Since Desert Storm in 1991, we’ve grown accustomed to conventional air campaigns, and now drone strikes on almost a daily basis. No one bats an eyelid after news of the latest Predator or Reaper strike in Afghanistan. That’s not going to be the case with first use of nuclear weapons since 1945.

        • Dresden bombing was more destructive and had a higher death toll than Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together. Of course, today’s nukes are much more powerful but if we’re talking about the use of a tactical nuke, a conventional air strike can probably match or even exceed the level of destruction. Although now that I think about it, since we’re talking about the response from the West – not an evil spiteful dictatorship – it seems more likely that there would be multiple air strikes against military targets – possibly nuke silos – rather than one air strike against a single target as would be the case with a nuke. I doubt the West would respond with a nuke to a single nuclear strike, especially against a non-civilian target. Of course, I also thought it was improbable that the US would invade Iraq, so my record for predicting future is abysmal.

          • Yes, Dresden and Tokyo were more destructive because they generated nuclear-like effects – the firestorm, and because it was a mass attack using thousands of bombers over a prolonged period over one city. Modern convention precision weapons are entirely different, and delivered in a very different way. The closest modern equivalent would be B-52s doing Arc Light strikes in Vietnam, or the ‘highway of death’ at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. But we’ve moved on from there. Weapons like JDAM, JASSM, and such are discrete munitions that generate discrete effects. I don’t see NATO air forces creating a Tokyo style firestorm given their capabilities. Even MOAB would not match the smallest nuclear weapon in terms of effects.

            • So, what was ‘shock and awe’ about then?
              Given the US didn’t need all the power but still felt it was about right to overdose the treatment, uh?

              • Those ‘shock and awe’ raids on Baghdad were made with precision strike weapons – big ones, but precision strike nevertheless. They were not targeted at civilian populations like Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo – they were targeted at Iraqi leadership and C2. There is a fundamental difference in terms of intent. In the Dresden operation, the goal was to incinerate the city and kill German civilians to demoralise the survivors as a way of coercing Germany, whereas in Baghdad 2003, the goal was preferably to decapitate the leadership from the outset, but also generate massive chaos in the Iraqi leadership to undermine their ability to resist the joint operations that followed. I don’t believe that the opening nights of Iraqi Freedom saw the US deliberately killing tens of thousands of people in Baghdad. Say what you will about Bush and Rumsfeld, but they were not some evil amalgam of Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris out for needless civilian misery just to prove a point. Nor was the US military seeking mass civilian death. Precision conventional weapons allow us to hit a specific target and tailor the effects to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, and that’s how the US military operates. Sometimes civilians die, and that’s tragic – but the US does not do scorched earth type strategies.

    • I am wondering Putin believes in the Soviet military theory that nuclear weapons is just another tool in war. Personally I doubt Putin will use a tactical nuclear weapon over Ukraine. But given his Stalinist tendencies I would not entirely rule it out. It is is worrisome however that Putin has been violating START treaty and developing new nuclear missiles.

    • If Poo tin was to go full retard he would go all in at once with a first strike in multiple waves. You need to take out all land based nuclear assets, command bases and/or satalites, with the first wave. The US has this policy also which means a defence shield in Europe and the Canadian Arctic if effective would have Putin solid and he knows it. If its all in; its all in and it could be either side that strikes first.

    • There is one obvious thing to do in case of a low-yield tactical nuclear strike from Russia:

      Keep our blood cool, and retaliate with conventional weapons where Putin doesn’t expect us, that is…

      Taking Koenigsberg (aka Kaliningrad) territory back to Europe with conventional warfare (less than one brigade will suffice), that would not be nuclear retaliation and that would not be aimed at mainland Russia…

      But…

      • and how do we hold Kaliningrad? If the Russians have already used tactical nuclear weapons, a NATO conventional riposte by seizing their territory will only encourage them to use additional nuclear weapons on NATO territory. What is your designed end state in seizing Kaliningrad, and what’s your ‘theory of victory’ here?

        A non-nuclear response to a nuclear attack reinforces the failure of deterrence, and prevents intra-war deterrence such that it becomes much easier for the Russians to use tactical nuclear weapons on a larger scale. The aim for NATO in this scenario should be to reinforce intra-war deterrence to prevent that from happening, and then use compellance to force Russia to withdraw. I don’t believe conventional response would achieve that. But my concern is that NATO may lack the resolve (and the means) to effective respond at the nuclear level short of strategic nuclear attack. Those 200 TNW based in Europe must remain because they are the Alliance’s only option other than Minuteman or Trident.

  11. Reality be said on Putin’s fear or maligned course of psychological nuisance to the world weather true or not is unacceptable. The bully dictator of tyranny must be dealt with effectively not peacefully in the same manner sooner better than catastrophic later.

  12. Disagree on this assessment of Putin as crazy about as much as I disagreed with your earlier characterization of him as panicked. No offense, but might you not be overcorrecting? I say that because I, too, was hopeful and optimistic that Putin was probably above-board and might bring some order into the post-Soviet, Yeltsin-era chaos of rampant gangsterism and Russian mafia domination of Russian civil society.

    Either way, I’m not sure there’s much utility in thinking VVP as irrational in some way. To me, as a more removed lay observer, VVP has been steadily pushing his limits all around peripheral Russia and just beyond for years now. The pattern has been consistent: push, consolidate gains, see what countervailing pushback occurs, weather it, and then push further. Only there has been hardly any countervailing pushback.

    So why not be even bolder in this next push, and invoke the nuke fears that Putin knows Obama, western Euros, and the western academic peacenik elites, and the random assorted leftist throughout the west all harbor. They’d rather hold their breaths and pass out than admit that nuclear threats have a deterrent effect when pressed against a fearful adversary. The same folks lost all continence when Darth, erm, Dick Cheney mentioned further developing our battlefield nuke capabilities. They were scared Schlitzless by the mention of nukes by guys on their own side, for Heaven’s sake.

    I don’t think it is either useful or necessary to view Putin as panicked or having lost his mind to admit that he has responded to the (ahem) “situational opportunities” as they have presented themselves to him. Is he nuts, powermad, greedy beyond all comprehension? Perhaps, but who cares? He could be all of that ^squared and still be responding quite rationally to opportunities presenting themselves to him by snatching up quick victories in a hungry and impatient way. Stopping him are just hecklers and wet-blanket party-poopers with flexi-spined determination and a touchy-feely aversion to any weapons stiffer than a wet noodle.

    • Should have mentioned that the nuke threat looks to me like the Russian take on what we used to bring down the USSR: containment. The Kremlin has been “working with” the mullahs and the Chinese quite politely, and hardly helped us in restraining the Nork Kim Dynasty. Meanwhile we’ve sequentially allowed the Russians to do so with much gratitude, taking their good intentions in the case of Iran and NK for granted. It’s almost as if they’re trying to learn from our successes against them in the past or something. Coincidence? I report, you deride.

    • “To me, as a more removed lay observer”

      Would you mind me asking what your background (education, profession etc.) is?

      • BA in International Relations, Eastern Europe, attained just in time for the end of the Soviet Union. But my interests have been more German as a semi-kraut half-breed. Lived there for spells during the 80s and 90s. MA in linguistics. Have worked variously teaching English to Germans and doing freelance translations, but have returned to my more practical youthful labor interests to work as a general building contractor.

        I see the language, history, and politics stuff as intellectually stimulating, but not my actual vocation or calling, and sort of take it as more of an amusement, serious as it surely is at some level. And just to give some idea of where I come from, since undergraduate studies, I’d have to say one of the most influential books I’ve read over the past several decades was Paul Johnson’s history of the 20th Century, Modern Times. Probably for a variety of reasons, but in part because the arguments that Johnson presents are quite bold and assertive, but also well supported and resonant, and more often than not contrastive to the public school and public university information I’d grown up with.

        It’s a bit of a jumble and mess, but wait till they see me in the swimsuit competition!

  13. After living in Ukraine for a total of 5 years, through both revolutions, it seems to me that Putin’s #1 short-term goal is staying in power and #1 long-term and ultimate goal is to go down in history alongside Lenin and Stalin. He was in his early 50s and calm during the 2004 Orange Revolution, but was 61 years old during the 2014 revolution, and he knows that he doesn’t have many years of vitality left to make the history books, which is now driving his desperation. Unfortunately, given the decision between providing a decent standard of living for Russians (not making history) or sending nukes to Washington, London, and Berlin with a 90% chance of Mutually Assured Destruction of Russia/10% chance of having the world kneel to Russia, unfortunately I think he’ll take the 10% chance and send the nukes. The longer he is at the helm with his finger on the button, the less likely we are going to survive this.

  14. I’m assuming many if not all of you have seen the VIPS open letter to Angela Merkel. For those who haven’t, here’s a link.

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/Memorandum-For-Angela-Mer-by-Coleen-Rowley-Angela-Merkel_Ukraine_Ukraine_Veteran-Intelligence-Professionals-For-Sanity-140831-791.html

    IMO, this is highly irresponsible and borderline subversive and traitorous. For example, the open letter states the following:

    “You need to know, for example, that accusations of a major Russian “invasion” of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence.”

    Of course, the operative word in that sentence is “major.” I assume “major” refers to a traditional invasion, but we’re no longer dealing in the realm of the traditional so one would think these VIPS would know this. Of course they must know this. They also must know that Merkel knows this. They also must know about Merkel’s East German past and Putin’s East German past. And yet this outfit disseminates this open letter. What’s it all about because the content of that letter and its suggestions and/or pleas are not the point.

    Putin and his pals have to be laughing. In fact, I know they are. Look at Lavrov laughing in the limo. I think this is happening quite a bit as of late considering the turn, and trajectory, of events. It’s like taking candy from a baby and they know it (Putin, Lavrov and all his other goons/thugs).

    http://i1.wp.com/www.dailynewsegypt.com/beta/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/3-4.jpg

  15. I think, we heading on a last fight! The last fight to clean the Soviet..ähem Russian from nukes! Thats like a part two of following the end, that never ended korrekt! Let’s fight for freedom!

  16. you ask, what does this do for Russia. When you sit inside a box, you can only read the walls. Open the box and see who is holding the box that you sit inside, then and only then can you see who is truly in control….. America is working with Putin. to begin ww3- just wait, you’ll see….

  17. I can imagine that Putin wants direct confrontation with the US. He as an ex KGB agent clearly is jealos and hates US role in the world. I thing he dreams about a day when russian forces meet in real battle somewhere in the world. Of course, he does not want full scale conflict, but he will challenge Nato and US. Even using any means. Russian population, money, building military bases in rogue countries like Syria, Venezuela and maybe Cuba. He dreams about a day when Russia will direct other countries what to do. Russians are even tought in schools that this is a normal shape of russian identity – be leader in the world and other nations should obey. Hope they will get a german lesson. Not yet.

  18. There’s one scenario that the writer did not consider: a nuclear detonation either in W. Ukraine or (more unlikely) E. Ukraine. If Russia can tie the use of a nuclear weapon to Western Ukraine, that would give Russia the pretext to invade with clean hands. Certainly Russia could make the argument that Ukraine never turned over every nuclear weapon they had from the old Soviet days. No one would believe it, but they could make the argument. Enough doubt could remain that Russia would not be subjected to the crippling sanctions that would be imposed if Russia was clear in their use of a nuclear weapon, and that gamble may be enough for Russia to try it.

    Of course, that’s just all arm-chair speculation. The question I was asked yesterday during a meeting after the DEFCON Warning System upgraded to Blue was if Putin was capable of such. My answer, after a few minutes of thinking, was that Putin is not insane enough to use a nuclear weapon over the Ukraine issue. But is he capable? Yes…yes he is capable of doing it.

  19. There was no mention of the fact that many of the russian speaking population West of the russian borders are russian speaking as a result of soviet rusification during the cold war. The children of these countries were brainwashed to be soviet russian and like robots now follow the programmer.

  20. Dear Tom,

    A friend of mine is a genocide scholar. He said Poetin may be funding IS in order to keep the EU and the USA distracted from Ukraine. The USA has changed policy and does not have any longer the means to fight a war on two fronts, so that when they engage in IS they won’t have the means to get involved in the Ukraine. What is your opinion on that?

    • I don’t buy it, not least because (a) I’ve never seen any evidence for it, and (b) it’s a mistake to think that the U.S. uses the same forces in the Middle East that it uses in NATO.

      • I agree! If Putin cross the nuke line, example with artillerie, so he need 100% a nuke back, if that game not given to him, he will conquer with his tactic Europe.
        Next stop Rheine in Germany! Indeed, I support also the idea to take back “Kaliningrad”, back to Europe, without Kaliningrad are the Baltics in danger and Poland last but not least also Germany soon too! He must know that. Last test can be a total sanctions against Russia like UdSSR times, more stronger. Well known that a lot of EU members suffer today with sanctions. So the time is anyway on running…..!
        Here is no way out!
        Now next jokes from the “Kremlin” has started to teach “western” countries too, nice future with those little “teachers” from Russia with love! To hell with them, Amen!

  21. I don’t think Putin will go nuclear on Europe, or any other Western country for that matter. Actually, Putin is going to have it all and laugh all the way to the restoring Russia’s status as a worthy rival and more reliable ally than US.
    P.S. – there are too many “obituaries” for Putin and his regime by the “pundits”. I think they all make him laugh.

    • Yes, “Do what I tell you or I will send my troops to kill you while I enjoy my $70 billion net worth.” Sounds very reliable.

      • I think that Putin is more honest and open than Western leaders who think and do the same, but just better at masking it in the appropriate “attire”. Look where Obama got the world with his utter lack of understanding and impotence. Germany’s economy is slowing and rest of the members will be left to fend for themselves. So I guess you are right, it’s “Do what I tell you….” And he really doesn’t need to send his troops in. His multi-billion fortune is protected. Life’s a bitch and the strongest wins.

  22. An interesting and though provoking article.

    Please allow me to offer my thoughts;

    I find it almost inconceivable that Putin (or anyone else for that matter) would ever seriously consider using nuclear weapons. They are considered the weapons of last resort for a reason. And the effectiveness lies in them never actually being used in anger. I disagree with thoughts that somehow Putin is gambling on being able to use, even a small yield devices in Europe and in particular a city in the EU or of a NATO member. I can guarantee that should that happen there would be a reply in kind. Any suggestion otherwise shows a lack of intelligence.

    My reading why the NATO\EU is deliberately staying out of the way of direct conflict with Russia for the following reasons (though this maybe by chance rather than judgement);

    1. Crimea\Ukraine are of little importance, both strategically and tactically.
    2. We are not giving Putin the chance to ignite a wider European conflict (if that IS his aim, and I’m not sure about that).
    3. It’s the economy stupid! Oil is (as of last night) about $100 a barrel and expected to go lower.

    This means that sanctions, falling oil revenue and increasing isolation, will do the work albeit over a longer time frame than direct military intervention. One this that the West must embrace is “long termism” rather than always looking for a short term solution. Putin is right and correct to point out that “Everything the US touches turns into Iraq and Libya”.

    Rumours abound (not sure how accurate they are though) that Putin is also facing increasing isolation internally from his own inner circle. I’m sure off one thing; Greed is a great motivator. If his inner circle of cronies see their personal wealth diminish, replaced with target on all their backs, they may decide that Putin is the problem and remove him. Certainly I feel that Putin’s time is coming to an end and as long as he can be “contained” personally the world should be able to manage this crisis and ultimately move on.

    One point I would like to make; Putin was never this master spymaster of some kind of special forces operator. he was a middle ranking lawyer collecting paper clippings in Dresden. He has allowed the West to create this absurd myth about him, which in turn has fuelled our fear and mistrust of him and by extension Russia.

    As has been pointed out; to invade even half of Ukraine, will require a force of over 300,00 to occupy and pacify. That’s just over a quarter of his land forces manpower. Without even looking at other internal conflict he may have to confront. It’s now possible that even Putin himself is seeing that he has overstretched himself and cannot possibly hold onto all of his gains (however unlawfully he gained them).

    Take home message: EU\NATOO\the West must keep patience and not fall into the trap that may have been laid for them.

    • Army General Yuri Yakubov, coordinator for the Inspector General’s office of the Russian Ministry of Defense has announced today a new strategic document which considers using a “preemptive nuclear strike” on the US using Russian strategic forces.

      IMO Putin will use whatever means and whatever it takes to cling to office as he knows and has spoken about having crossed the line this means he has to be president for life or he will either end up in prison or die.

      He is in a position of great domestic political weakness where he can no longer rely on a 7% GDP growth economy, to provide ever improving standards of living for those residing in Moscow and surrounding areas, so he has gone the alternative popularity route of aggression military adventures and the rebuilding of an empire. The problem with this is that he must win or he falls from power and the popularity fixes will have to be more and more often.

      Personally, I think the best route at the moment is for the west to arm Ukraine, so they can defend their homeland and Putin has to cope with the pressure, which is already building with a Russian wives and mothers organisation having already identified over 2,200 Russian cargo-200s since August 25th.

      Putin will end up with an Afghanistan in Ukraine, but this will sadly be at a great cost to the Ukrainian people. Ukraine having picked the short straw in the 20th century under Soviet rule and WWII and ending up with about 10 million deaths, it is beginning to look like they have drawn the same straw again in the 21st century.

  23. Sometimes you have to laugh at these Putin apologists. It sure beats crying over their spilled, radioactively-infused milk.

    Springtime For Putin … And Germany (from a new Broadway hit by Mel Brooks called The Incraders (Invasion + Incursion).

    Bye Bye Deutschland

  24. 2/3 of the population of the world, hope Putin firmly. The world is not confined to the United States and NATO. what western right to punish, to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries ??? not Democratic ??? what democracy standard answer is certainly the most votes. What kind Dekomkrasi if democratically elected leaders such as Egypt, Iran, Syria and many other countries, but not in favor of the state to the west in the overthrow of power. west has always been applying double standards in politics.
    Russian life, china, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea. destroy the west, saudi arabia, israel !!!

  25. What a bunch of bullshit.Stupid propaganda as usual.This time people have internet and know what is true or not.But stupid americans with hamburgers in their jaws still need someone to tell them this is the bad guy and we are the good guys.The good guys who invaded at least 20 countries in the last 30-40 years and killed uncounted number of people but hey whatever cnn says its written in stone.

    • Agreed. Today whole of the middle-east and Afghanistan are in a god-aweful shitty mess just because of America and its allies. Vietnamese are still loosing limbs by the American land mines. Not to say the Americans are altogether bad, but they are no saints to preach..

  26. If, say, Putin used a small yield weapon on, say, Warsaw and NATO did nothing in terms of defending it, BUT some disgruntled persons found a misplaced nuke and it accidentally went off, thus taking out a whole bunch of russian troops, I wonder what mr Putin would think then?

  27. Putin is bluffing. The only way Russia would ever resort to first use of nuclear weapons would be if the very survival of the Russian state itself were being seriously threatened. (i.e. If American battle tanks were 100 km from Moscow and closing in fast.)

    Retaining control over a few hundred square miles of southeastern Ukraine doesn’t even begin to rise to that level.

    The US military could easily kick Russia out of Ukraine in 48 hours if we had a president with the balls to give the order.

    But Putin has calculated that we don’t, and he has been proven right.

  28. You guys crack me up. So much fearmongering, warmongering and just plain fantasy in this discussion. Here’s the reality:

    -Russia never had any intention of invading Ukraine (or Crimea, for that matter). Keeping Ukraine neutral and out of NATO was all the Russians wanted (in other words, continuation of the status quo). The invasion of Crimea and subsequent creation of a rebellion in E. Ukraine were reactionary moves. You can tell based on how ill-prepared Russia was in the beginning. They had almost no forces in theater and had to initially rely on existing troops in Crimea. It took them months to get a real action going in E. Ukraine. They clearly weren’t ready. So all this nonsense about Russia wanting to gobble up all of Ukraine is just that: nonsense. Russia lacks the forces or the will to occupy and subjugate a country the size of Ukraine.

    – Putin has no desire to go to war with the United States, or attack NATO, or invade the Baltics. Utterly ridiculous; they can barely handle their own internal dissent; even Chechnya\Dagestan still haven’t been pacified. The Russians had a pretty hard time even fighting tiny ill-equipped Georgia in 2008. Believe me Putin and the Russian generals know that any conventional war with the US would result in one-sided annihilation of their forces. Such a war could only go nuclear as that would be the only option left for Russia after the wholesale slaughter and humiliation of its armed forces. Putin and the Russian people do not want to commit national suicide.

    – Strongmen like Putin want, above all else, to stay in power. This is why Russia is not a threat to the US, NATO or even eastern europe; because at the end of the day they’ve no interest in a real shooting war with the western powers. I’m convinced the Russians don’t really even want a new Cold War; chest-thumping aside, their not happy about the sanctions and they sure as hell don’t want another arms race (they can’t afford it).

    You all need to calm down. Armchair warriors tend to eagerly hype up every perceived threat because they’re military enthusiasts and enjoy playing at war. No shame in admitting that; everybody’s gotta have hobbies but don’t let it color your perception.

    • If you think the rhetoric is getting a bit extreme, you might want to take that up with the President of Russia, his nuclear saber-rattling, his annexation of foreign territory and the cheap medals he gave out for it, and his dozen-plus bomber incursions over North America. Thanks for writing.

  29. “If the Russian president’s goal is to make the world forget about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, place a permanent stain on the word “Russia” for all time, and unite the entire planet against his still-poor, still-weak”

    So you agree that there is a permanent stain on the word “USA” ? The so-called Saviors of Humanity….