WORDS: 1,560 — Putin’s personal spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has apparently caused a greater stir among those in fear of Putin’s use of nuclear weapons, and the inevitable Armageddon to follow. It seems he stated in a CNN interview that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons if it feels an “existential” threat. Obviously the variable there is the word “existential”, as that can have a broad definition. Is all this worth quaking in our boots?
So I got to thinking that it might be worthy to discuss what the use of nuclear weaponry might mean in reality… before that reality sets in. The idea that using a nuclear weapon is a direct line to the end of mankind is not necessarily an absolute inevitability… and if there are fears of that, and the fears fall onto the right people, then that might be good thing as a deterrent. But we all realize that humans are a diverse species and people will do what they do, often to each other, in an infinite variety of ways and for the same infinite reasons. So, that begs the question at hand, will Putin use a nuke whether he feels cornered by events or not? Only Putin knows for sure what his limitations and ambitions are, and even that can change daily. So given that, the world has to march to his tune,,, for the moment. But here’s some thoughts.
Let’s start with the playing field illustrating NATO and non-NATO nations…
The map below represents the old Soviet Bloc countries… Warsaw Pact… spanning the Cold War years. Putin’s former world, and the world in which most of us Baby Boomers were raised.
Now, comparing both these maps and the time periods being reflected we can certainly understand Putin’s perception of his changed world, yet at the same time totally not condone his methods for pursuing “his” dreams for an imperial Russia of old over the bodies of dead Ukrainians.. and his own unsuspecting young soldiers being used only for cannon fodder. Now, I am sure deep within the bowels of some CIA or MI6 think tank going back decades there rests a complete psychological workup of Putin, which to some measure is likely fairly accurate, which suggests his behaviors can be anticipated on some level. But this strike against Ukraine is Putin’s swan song, if nothing else. He’s about to experience significant dissent at home inside Russia, and he’s currently experiencing a near total collapse of his military as a ground and air fighting force of any consequence. A CIA/Pentagon estimate released today suggests 15,000 Russian soldiers are KIA, with some 40,000 in total killed, injured, or missing. Not to mention the loss in armor and vehicles and rotary-wing aviation. These are staggering losses for any modern military operation of only 6 weeks fighting. It’s no wonder he wants Belarus to get into the battle. The fact that the Russian military mindset allows for the leaving of the dead where they have fallen, many as burned up carcasses inside destroyed tanks, on the battlefield means there are no body bags going home to mourning families. Better to leave the families still wondering and hoping their loved one is okay than in the streets protesting.
That will come before any nuclear initiative. Nasty as that is in practical use on real people, it will also carry with it the next line-in-the-sand reaction from the Allies… or likely more from the American side. I’m guessing we will respond with air strikes onto originating firing positions. Maybe not an official NATO response. This could be the substance of Biden’s meeting with Poland. Use of their airpower on such an escalation of weaponry would be convenient for the region, with our AWACS support. But what happens if the chemical attacks are originating from inside Russian borders? Putin might be positioning Belarus in getting involved in order to position chemical attack sites from within Belarus, striking distance on Kyiv, in anticipating Allied air strikes against launch positions there and not inside Russia. I’m sure the Allies/Poland would have less scruples striking targets in Belarus. Regardless, I think in Putin’s mind chemical attacks are on his list to use.
That Brings Us To The Use Of Nukes.. And Proportional Response
I think it’s pretty much a given that if Russia lobes over a thousand multi-warhead ICBM’s we would send the same or greater back to them.. and the world as we know it vanishes. Very likely what would happen would be some level of proportional response. If Russia sends over one, we return the favor with one. Some city may vanish on both sides, but at the end of the day life still goes on. I perceive the greater risk is in the use of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. These things do come in a variety of possible impact yields (some have a dial-a-yield option I hear) but by and large their concept in use is to minimize the impact on nearby friendly troops as well as minimize overall infrastructure damage. The spewing of radiation is minimal as is contamination of the target being long lasting. On some smaller types the effect is like ten tons of TNT. Still a big bang, but less lasting effects. One might think that if Putin wants to use one of these it would be a tactical strike meant not to wallop and lay waste to the entire country and send a radiation cloud swirling over Moscow, but rather to inflict more local damage… and carnage.
Now, the challenge for Ukraine and her allies (NATO, et al) is how does one presume a proportional response against use of a tactical nuke? I mean, it’s not like the first tactical nuke Russia uses is going to require a full nuclear retaliatory response letting loose our entire nuclear arsenal onto Moscow. One “logical” possibility (as if any of this has any logic at all) is we give a tactical nuke to Ukraine to fire at will into Russia.. after all, they are already at war with them. It’s the same principle as giving them a few Stinger missiles. Hopefully Putin will see that bit of logic and end it all there. He could also reach the conclusion that there is what Dmitry Peskov said.. an “existential” threat to Mother Russia, and Putin could carry it further with more tactical strikes.
But Wait… What About The Neutron Bomb?
Boy, we’ve not heard about that one in a while! Russia apparently does have some of these things… like in large artillery shells. These weapons were designed to kill people with minimal effect to infrastructure. It’s still a form of a nuclear bomb.. designed to kill with high levels of neutron radiation that dissipates quickly over time. I am not sure at all of the operational readiness between us or the Russians on using these things and the ability to introduce these things into a war zone. It seems their intended strategic mission use has not been advanced much in recent years. But Putin could use these as well.
But is Putin likely to use a nuke of some form against Ukraine somewhere? I sense he will use a chemical weapon first… and then we will strike back at the launch sites. Very likely NATO will consider other options at that juncture as well. As for Putin using nukes… demagogues like that tend to fear their own possible deaths. Hitler in the end feared the approaching Russian army would capture him alive and treat him inhumanely by torture and public humiliation through the streets of Berlin for the cameras. He killed himself with instructions that his body be cremated to remove any humiliation of his corpse. Had Hitler had a nuclear bomb, or many of them, he would have used it and not given a damn the effects on humanity. After all, Germany betrayed him. Putin has no desire to die or be incarcerated for the rest of his life. He’s wrapped in his own self-preservation. He witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall while he was KGB in East Germany and saw the raging crowds heading his way and he got out of Dodge as quickly as he could. I believe that end scares him… hence his crackdown on public dissent at home. He doesn’t care a lick for the Russian people, much a reflection of the character of the former Soviet Union in general. He could very well decide on using a tactical nuke somewhere if the chemical strikes don’t work to his satisfaction. I don’t see him using a large strike ICBM end-of-the-world action… if he’s not cornered. If he reached a point where, like Hitler, he starts to blame the Russian people for his failures, he may want to take them down with him and do something self-destructive to the nation.
There’s An Epilog To All This Once Putin Is Removed
Ok… Putin’s removal is speculation of course and likely only accomplished by his own people, if at all. But the real end to the Ukrainian War will be a universal.. global.. determination as to how to remove nuclear weapons from non-democracies. This idea that a belligerent dictatorial/authoritarian nuclear power can hold the world hostage to a nuclear Armageddon should never be allowed to repeat itself.
All I might suggest to Ukraine and all the Allies… if a response is necessary then stay proportional and not impulsive… or punitive.