Putin playing the nuclear card

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. AP PHOTO

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. AP PHOTO

DURING an interview with CNN earlier this week, Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, gave broad hints that Russia will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons in achieving its military goals in Ukraine.

Peskov said Putin would consider a nuclear response if Russia is confronted with an “existential threat.” The spokesman never fully explained what constitutes an existential threat, but the message was chilling enough to elicit international concern, particularly from the Pentagon, which described it as “dangerous.”

“It's not the way a responsible nuclear power should act,” the Pentagon spokesman added.

Some observers speculate that Putin is playing the nuclear card because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has not been the juggernaut it was perceived to be. Four weeks into the war, the Russian offensive appears to have been stalled by fierce Ukrainian resistance. The invaders have shifted tactics by keeping key cities under constant bombardment, not wanting to suffer heavy casualties during a direct assault. The wanton artillery and missile barrage has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians and triggered a humanitarian tragedy.

What exactly are Putin's objectives in attacking Ukraine? The Russian leader had initially told the Russian people he wanted to demilitarize and “de-Nazify” Ukraine, assertions that have questionable credibility. Peskov provides a clearer picture, saying that aside from militarily castrating Ukraine, Putin wants to convert it into a “neutral country,” and for Kyiv to accept the independence of two Russian-leaning regions.

In pursuit of these goals, Putin is ready to dust off Russia's nuclear arsenal and prep it for action, that is what his spokesman wishes to convey. And that decision could push the world to the brink of a nuclear war.

In 1970, 191 countries signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a landmark pact meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote cooperation in harnessing nuclear energy to peaceful uses and bringing the world closer to nuclear disarmament.

The treaty was hailed as an effective deterrent to mutual assured destruction, or MAD, the Cold War dread of the US and the Soviet Union launching enough nuclear missiles at each other, resulting in apocalyptic devastation.

The treaty, however, only forbade the further production of nuclear arms, and allowed countries with existing nuclear arsenals to keep a limited number of weapons for defensive purposes.

As an added safeguard, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established to conduct inspections to ensure that a country does not divert the fissile material it produces for weapons use.

Rising nuclear stockpile

But here is the staggering reality: despite the non-proliferation treaty, the global inventory of nuclear weapons remains high. According to one credible estimate, nine countries have stockpiled 12,700 nuclear warheads as of early this year.

Ninety percent of the warheads are owned by Russia and the US.

As decreed by the treaty, nuclear countries must gradually reduce their stockpiles. They are complying, but at a leisurely pace. More alarming, China, India, North Korea, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, and maybe Russia, are believed to be building up their stockpiles, not reducing them.

More than 9,400 warheads are ready to be fired by missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines.

Many of those nukes may not be powerful enough to ensure MAD, but they can be deployed in smaller war zones, which make them perfect for the Ukraine battleground.

Putin is aware of this, and with the Russian push in Ukraine stalled, it is a tempting option. “The chances are low but rising,” notes a nuclear expert. “The war is not going well for the Russians and the pressure from the West is increasing.”

The same expert sees Putin probing the waters by first firing a nuclear missile at an uninhabited area to find out how everyone will react.

That is a frightening scenario that can only be headed off by a more aggressive diplomatic effort to end the war in Ukraine. Unless there is a dramatic breakthrough in peace negotiations, the cloud of nuclear conflict will cast yet another ominous shadow on the war-scarred Ukrainian landscape.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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