05 March 2022

Putin's nuclear threats

Putin has been hinting that he might respond to the West's sanctions and military aid to Ukraine by escalating to nuclear weapons.  How worried should we be about this?

I am not very worried about it, for two reasons.  First, the US and European governments have access to far better information and analysis of the situation (including Russian intentions and capabilities) than the rest of us do, and they don't seem to be deterred by Putin's threats at all.  They are continuing to tighten sanctions and send more weapons to Ukraine.  Clearly they don't believe a unilateral nuclear escalation by Russia is at all likely -- and they're in the best position to know.

Second, there are already growing signs of open opposition to Putin's war among the Russian military, government, and oligarchs.  None of those people want to see their own country destroyed, as it would be if a nuclear attack by Putin against a NATO target resulted in escalation to an all-out nuclear exchange.  If he actually seemed about to order such a dangerous act, it seems more than likely that cooler heads would stop the order from being carried out or even remove him from power.  Remember, the Russian state is essentially a mafia.  In the US, veneration for Constitutional rules would make it very hard for the military to step in and remove a president even if he seemed on the brink of doing something that risked destroying the country.  But a mafia has no such veneration for rules or persons.  If an organized-crime gang realizes that their leader is about to do something crazy which will bring ruin and death to them all, they won't hesitate to remove him.

NATO, for its part, has been careful to avoid actions that carry serious risk of nuclear escalation.  This is why options such as NATO troops going to Ukraine to fight, or a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine (which would mean NATO forces shooting down Russian planes which defied it) have been ruled out.  Any scenario in which Russian and NATO forces are directly fighting each other would pose too much risk of escalation to an all-out NATO-Russian war -- and must therefore be avoided.

o o o o o

I've mentioned Kyiv Independent as a good source of updates on the war.  There's also this Ukrainian government site set up to provide updates and other resources.  I've also been following reports on the BBC, CNN, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera, and Voice of America, among others.

The US secretary of state believes Ukraine can win the war.

Here's the reality behind Russia's famed and feared VDV paratroopers.

Here's an example of how Russia's inadequate maintenance of military equipment degrades its performance in ways that wouldn't happen in the West.

More here on that huge stalled Russian convoy outside Kyiv, which appears to be running out of just about everything.

A Canadian blogger living in Ukraine reports from the sceneHis blog in general is worth checking out.

This baby girl, named Mia, was born on the second day of the war in a Kyiv metro station being used as a bomb shelter.

The Daily Overview has pictures of the civilian exodus from Ukraine.  So far about one million people have fled, mostly to Poland.

Before-and-after pictures show the tremendous damage being done by Russian missile attacks (found via Miss Cellania).

Shelling Europe's largest nuclear reactor may be the stupidest thing the Russians have done yet.

Anti-war protests in Russia continue despite the crackdown (found via Keith).  Short video clip here from St Petersburg.

Putin's regime isn't much better at propaganda than at anything else.

See some images inspired by the conflict.

When all else fails, use witchcraft.

More footage of Bayraktar drones in action.  The Bayraktar has a cruising speed of just eighty miles per hour, so that fact that they remain in widespread use (and I have not heard of any of them being shot down by Russian fighter planes) shows that Russia still has not achieved air superiority.


Blogger Jack said...

It sounds like Russia has done as poor of a job in maintaining their military readiness as the U.S. has in maintaining our bridges and roads. Strangely, I'm somewhat less concerned about Putin using nukes than I was about Trump using them (on hurricanes).

05 March, 2022 03:49  
Blogger NickM said...

I dunno... Putin is unhinged and he has bet his own ass on this adventure. He has nothing to lose and that makes him dangerous. Historically very few former Russian leaders end their days as respected elder statesmen working on their memoirs...

I think you're right but for the wrong reasons about the prospect of a Russian military coup. Yes, Putin is a mafia head but the mafia do run on very rigid rules. True, they aren't the rules of the US Constitution but tthe are still rules. If Putin pushes too far on a war that Russia if not losing is clearly not winning then I could easily imagine him in the Moskva wearing concrete boots. Oddly enough the tipping point could be a presidential order to use nukes. Putin might be mad and desperate. That doesn't mean his military are.

05 March, 2022 03:53  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I hope it doesn't come to Russia trying to send any nuclear weapons this way. But Putin seems to be unpredictable.

05 March, 2022 13:51  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

I want to thank you again for the informative links.

05 March, 2022 14:39  
Blogger Daal said...

thank goodness at least this didn't happen during Trump...

05 March, 2022 14:58  
Blogger Kay said...

I hope hope hope Blinken is correct. Thank you for all this information.

05 March, 2022 17:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: And in the end, Trump never did use them -- even on hurricanes.

NickM: That's pretty much what I had in mind. Putin may feel he has nothing to lose and would want to go out by doing the Samson-pulling-down-the-temple thing, but that doesn't mean others in the inner circle of power feel the same way.

Dictators who start wars that end disastrously have a tendency to fall in the aftermath. I think the best analogy for this war may actually be Argentina's invasion of the Falklands.

Mary K: What I'm counting on is that the Russian generals know that trying to nuke the West means they themselves would get nuked in turn.

Ricko: Thanks! I've been following this story very closely and finding more items of interest than I could ever use in these posts.

Daal: Indeed. He would probably have dithered around, blamed Ukraine, and done very little unless the cabinet talked him into it. Biden knows how to handle dictators.

Kay: It's hard to judge, but Blinken has access to a lot more information than most people do.

05 March, 2022 22:00  
Blogger NickM said...

I dunno. I think this is even less justified than the Argentinian invasion. They did have an admittedly weak claim on those islands. But you are right that if this all goes Pete Tong for Putin he's going the way of the Argentinian Junta.

06 March, 2022 02:38  
Blogger jenny_o said...

I don't follow the West's logic in refusing to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine. I understand that Putin has said he considers it a declaration of war, but he also said that about Western sanctions. So supposedly we have already declared war on Russia and further provocation is not going to make any difference. I echo Zelenskyy - how many more civilians have to die before we decide to call Putin's bluff? He will blame everything on the rest of the world, no matter what we do. Lindsay Graham said what I imagine many people are privately thinking. Putin is evil and evil needs to be dealt with.

06 March, 2022 13:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

A NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine would mean NATO shooting down Russian planes that defied the zone. That would put us in an actual shooting war with Russia, which is a very different thing from mere rhetoric saying that something is equivalent to a declaration of war. Once NATO and Russian forces are actually shooting at each other, it would be very easy for the situation to escalate to a general nuclear exchange which would destroy Russia, North America, and Europe. It's simply too dangerous.

An attempt to assassinate Putin which could be traced back to the West would also risk a general war, obviously.

06 March, 2022 16:22  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Yeah, I guess actual combat is a step up from sanctions no matter how equivalent Putin wants to say they are. I'm just so furious at his inhumanity.

06 March, 2022 20:19  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I find sometimes I just can't breathe with fear and worry...cause this won't be his last stop.

07 March, 2022 21:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jenny_o: If Russia and NATO get into a direct shooting war with each other, then nuclear war moves from essentially unthinkable to all too likely.

Granny: Ukraine won't be his last stop if he gets away with what he's doing there. Dictators don't stop unless somebody else stops them.

09 March, 2022 01:38  

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