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The Russian military might yet finish Putin off

Putin’s recent nuclear threats suggest above all that he is in grave danger at home. It was not only intended to impress the West but also to show strength to its followers who believed it was not tough enough in Ukraine and to warn the Moscow conspirators that it would stop at nothing to cling to power, no matter how many were killed. in processing.

Its annexation of the regions of Ukraine now occupied by Russia means that it can legally use nuclear weapons to defend it because it will officially be part of the Russian Federation. The fact that no other country will recognize Moscow’s sovereignty is off topic – from the Kremlin’s perspective, an attack on these regions with NATO munitions would be an attack on Russia itself.

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Whether or not Putin is bluffing about using weapons of mass destruction – and we shouldn’t forget that he also possesses a large chemical arsenal – his threat was a sign of his running out of options in this war. Nuclear or chemical strikes on the battlefield can be game-changing, inflicting severe physical and psychological damage on Ukrainian defenders.

They would also have the possibility of an uncontrollable escalation, possibly engulfing the whole of Europe and even beyond. The US president was right to publicly threaten catastrophic consequences for Russia if Putin used nuclear weapons, and he would be right to inflict such consequences if his warnings went unheeded. In military terms, this could only be a direct NATO intervention in Ukraine or strikes against key targets inside Russia. Either of them would mean a war on the level of Europe.

The White House says it has “communicated directly and privately with the Russians at very high levels” and how it would respond if Putin made the nuclear option. This message will be delivered to others in the nuclear chain of command, including the Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. We can only hope it was strong enough and that they took it seriously enough to deter them. The latter cannot be taken for granted among the dignitaries who consider the Biden and NATO administrations to be toothless, a view reinforced by the disaster in Afghanistan last year and the French flight from Mali this year.

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Deterring those responsible for carrying out Putin’s orders, who want to survive, is critical now and could literally save the world if the order to attack is disobeyed. The refusal of his subordinates to carry out the instructions for a nuclear strike would also lead to the end of Putin. He knows it and will only issue the order if he is confident of carrying it out, hence the need for American messages to get home.

Putin’s end may come sooner rather than later. Moscow’s political and military elites can now see that they are backing the wrong horse. Regardless of the growing reluctance within the country to support mobilization for the war, Russia’s most important allies among the former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucasus have been turning away from Moscow. Putin has also lost the confidence of his most powerful partners abroad, including India, whose president publicly rebuked him in Samarkand this month, saying: “Today’s era is not war.” Turkey’s president, Erdogan, who has been playing a double game since the invasion began, told Putin that Crimea – Moscow’s most important possession in Ukraine – should be returned to Kyiv.

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Even the Chinese president, Russia’s most important ally, has been more free to talk about the invasion in private, to the point that Putin had to publicly acknowledge his concerns two weeks ago. Just as Washington’s contacts with Russia’s top leadership are vital to fending off escalation, Western diplomacy among Moscow’s allies is persuading them to toughen their stance against Putin’s nuclear threat. The message here is not for Putin, as he is raised up from his stomach and cannot go down unless Ukraine agrees, but to political and military elites, who may be able to push the ladder out from under him.

Even this can be a double-edged sword. Putin’s end does not necessarily mean the end of the war, or even an improvement in the situation. What happens next depends on which factions take power. There are some in Moscow who want to find a way to end it on terms that minimize harm and humiliation for Russia and save their skins and wealth, but there are others who want the same thing as Putin but believe that more violence is needed. to achieve that.

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