Nuclear nightmare now a real possibility

Nuclear nightmare now a real possibility. By Greg Sheridan.

Vladimir Putin has driven the world closer to nuclear war than at any time since the end of the Cold War. …

A month ago the coffee shops of Kyiv were full, the art galleries thriving. Today, Kyiv’s citizens huddle in basement bomb-shelters. No divine law says Western nations are immune from such fates, and worse. …

Many things Putin says are plainly untrue … Putin used the NATO issue as a pretext to invade Ukraine. His other purposes, remember, were “denazification” and demilitarisation. But Ukraine, with its democratically elected Jewish President, is no Nazi state. Nor did its military present any threat to Russia. …

What is winning, at this stage?

If Putin emerges with more of Ukraine than he started, and if sanctions are ultimately lifted, if European NATO members do not massively, permanently lift defence spending, and if Europe doesn’t permanently reject Russian energy, then Putin wins, even if his economy is devastated. …

If Putin wins in Europe, the results for Asia are disastrous. … A Putin win is a powerful positive example to the most aggressive instincts in Beijing. It draws the US into an endless crisis in Europe, away from the critical security tasks of the Indo-Pacific. …

Going nuclear:

So how could the Ukraine conflict spiral into nuclear exchange?

The sad answer is in many ways. None is likely, but all are possible.

Say Putin grinds on to a horrible, bloody, murderous victory in Ukraine. This could take months and involve thousands of dead Russian soldiers as well as countless Ukrainian casualties. Western sanctions would stay on Russia at full tilt. The Russian economy is already in free fall, unravelling more rapidly than at any time since the fall of communism.

Putin is already paranoid. Perhaps his domestic situation becomes unstable. He has to present all this suffering Russians are experiencing as caused by Western malice. So, either to mislead his people, or in pursuit of his dream of a restored Russian empire, or to escalate decisively so that NATO must cut him a deal, he invades one or more of the Baltic nations – Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia.

These are much smaller than Ukraine, with no strategic depth, and small and untried militaries. Putin overwhelms them quickly, but they are NATO members. Biden and all the NATO allies are pledged to their defence. So NATO, led by the US, sends in forces to eject the Russians. At this point, Russia’s military doctrine says it uses tactical nuclear weapons to “escalate to de-escalate”. …

There are a thousand dangers of accident and split-second misinterpretation. The Russians struck a military facility right next to the Polish border to make this kind of implicit threat. Say they struck across Poland’s border, by accident or design, perhaps design disguised as accident. Poland would have to reply. The Russians might then interpret this as a NATO attack on Russia, maybe mistake a conventional missile for a nuclear one.

There are a dozen other credible scenarios ending in nuclear use. None of this is to suggest that nuclear war is likely. But it’s vastly more likely than even six months ago.


Finally, while I don’t share the view that Putin is deranged, he is under great pressure, deeply paranoid, isolated and his mind full of extreme Russian nationalism.

Last week, I wrote about the books of the Russian academic, author, activist and ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, once dubbed “Putin’s mind” by Foreign Affairs magazine. Dugin’s ideology, said to be much admired by Putin, centres on Russian nationalism and ethnic self-obsession, hatred of the West and the determination that Moscow rule a Eurasian ­empire.

Much of Dugin’s writing is weird, some of it is apocalyptic: “The meaning of Russia is that through the Russian people will be realised the last thought of God, the thought of the End of the World …”