Let me start with an admission. Many times, I've believed: "Putin would never ever do this." Then he goes and does it.
" He 'd never annex Crimea, definitely?" He did." He 'd never start a war in the Donbas." He did." He 'd never introduce a full-blown intrusion of Ukraine." He has.
I've concluded that the phrase "would never ever do" doesn't apply to Vladimir Putin.
And that raises an uneasy concern:
" He 'd never press the nuclear button first. Would he?"It's not a theoretical question. Russia's leader has simply put his country's nuclear forces on "special" alert, complaining of "aggressive statements" over Ukraine by Nato leaders.
Listen carefully to what President Putin has actually been saying. Last Thursday when he revealed on television his "special military operation" (in reality, a full-blown invasion of Ukraine), he delivered a cooling warning:" To anybody who would think about interfering from the outside - if you do, you will face repercussions greater than any you have dealt with in history."" Putin's words sound like a direct hazard of nuclear war," thinks Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, primary editor of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
" In that TV address, Putin wasn't imitating the master of the Kremlin, however the master of the world; in the same way the owner of a flash car shows off by twirling his keyring round his finger, Putin was twirling the nuclear button. He's said many times: if there is no Russia, why do we need the planet? Nobody paid any attention. However this is a danger that if Russia isn't dealt with as he wants, then whatever will be ruined."
In a 2018 documentary, President Putin commented that ".if somebody chooses to annihilate Russia, we have the legal right to respond. Yes, it will be a disaster for humanity and for the world. But I'm a resident of Russia and its head of state. Why do we need a world without Russia in it?"
Fast forward to 2022. Putin has introduced a full-blown war against Ukraine, however the Ukrainian militaries are putting up stiff resistance; Western nations have - to the Kremlin's surprise - joined to impose possibly debilitating economic and monetary sanctions against Moscow. The very existence of the Putin system might have been put in doubt.
" Putin's in a tight spot," thinks Moscow-based defence expert Pavel Felgenhauer. "He doesn't have many choices left, when the West freezes the assets of the Russian Central bank and Russia's monetary system really implodes. That will make the system unworkable." One option for him is to cut gas supplies to Europe, hoping that will make the Europeans climb down. Another option is to blow up a nuclear weapon somewhere over the North Sea between Britain and Denmark and see what occurs."If Vladimir Putin did pick a nuclear option, would anybody in his close circle try to discourage him? Or stop him?
" Russia's political elites are never with the people," states Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov. "They constantly take the side of the ruler."And in Vladimir Putin's Russia the ruler is all-powerful. This is a country with few checks and balances; it's the Kremlin that calls the shots." No one is ready to withstand Putin," says Pavel Felgenhauer. "We're in a hazardous area."
The war in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin's war. If the Kremlin leader accomplishes his military aims, Ukraine's future as a sovereign nation will remain in doubt. If he is perceived to be failing and suffers heavy casualties, the fear is that might prompt the Kremlin to embrace more desperate measures.Specifically if "would never ever do" no longer applies.