A cornered Vladimir Putin has taken the world closest to nuclear war since the Bay of Pigs in the 1960s. Whenever he has had a choice, Mr Putin has chosen only to escalate the Ukraine situation, as he has now with an open threat to use nuclear weapons if Russian territorial integrity is threatened. With the seven-month war in Ukraine seemingly unwinnable, neither aggression on the ground nor in the air producing the results the Kremlin had initially imagined, Mr Putin is switching to sell a sentimental defence of Russia appeal to his people.
The nuclear sabre rattling, with its ominous ring, is intended to cover up the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not gone to plan. How unpopular Mr Putin’s mobilisation call now to his country’s 3,00,000 reservists to join the war is evident not only in the protests that have broken out on the streets of Moscow but also in the rush at the airports catering to flights out of the country, particularly to Armenia and Turkey, countries to which Russians need no visas.
Mr Putin’s call for what are certain to be sham referendums in four Ukrainian border regions is a ploy to name the annexed territories as Russian to justify his finger on the nuclear button in case Ukraine’s attempts to recapture territories, including the Crimea, gain momentum. The Ukraine forces have been valiant in their response to Russian aggression but the nuclear warning changes the situation in a deadly game. that the world, reeling under the economic impact of the war that came on top of the Covid pandemic, cannot countenance.
A dramatic change in India’s stand on the Ukraine war may have had little to do with pushing Putin. But it is significant that Prime Minister Narendra Modi used a public forum at the SCO summit to tell off Mr Putin, clearly enunciating that this is not the era for war and that he must end it. The fact is, because of its failure to realise war objectives, Russia has been losing face, including with China and India that had first taken a different view from that of the West in relation to Ukraine.
Things may have added up to Mr Putin raising the ante in the dangerous game involving Ukraine, which Russian media still describes as a “military operation” for domestic consumption. Far from seeking ways to end the misadventure and try and keep the gains made in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzyha, Mr Putin seems bent on pushing ahead with the war despite the big losses in personnel that his army, retreating in some places in the northeast of Ukraine, has suffered.
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” reiterated Joe Biden at the UN in his pointed condemnation of Russia as currently the biggest threat to world peace. The logic of the statement may be irrefutable. The only person who does not see it now seems to be Mr Putin, whose grandiose vision of Russia as the country that repulsed the likes of Napoleon and Hitler is leading him into creating his defence of Russia stance at a fragile moment for mankind. Anyone in his circle who can find a way to tell Mr Putin how to end the war would be doing humanity the greatest favour in the new millennium....