Russia's war on Ukraine: Vladimir Putin's megalomania could see him use nuclear weapons – Steve Cardownie

When Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, sent in his forces to invade Ukraine on February 24, he believed that his so-called “special military operation” would be over in a matter of days, his troops would be welcomed by the Ukrainian population, a puppet regime would be installed and he would be hailed as a hero in his homeland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued veiled threats to use nuclear weapons (Picture: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin pool photograph via AP, file)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued veiled threats to use nuclear weapons (Picture: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin pool photograph via AP, file)

Now, some seven months later, according to some estimates, there have been more than 80,000 Russian military casualties (killed or wounded) and, according to the open-source database Oryx, Russia has lost 1,183 tanks and 1,304 infantry fighting vehicles since the invasion.

Putin’s plan to subjugate Kyiv lies in tatters and Ukrainian forces continue to take back territory once occupied by Russian forces in the south-east of Ukraine.

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This prompted Putin to hold sham referendums in four areas (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia) which predictably voted to merge with Russia, thus allowing Putin to make the spurious claim that these areas were now Russian territory and that any Ukrainian military offensive would be deemed as an attack on Russian soil.

The referendums are deemed by the UN to have been organised in violation of the United Nations Charter and to be illegal under international law. What’s more, Russia does not even fully control any of the four regions, where military hostilities are still being played out.

So, with Putin’s “special military operation” being exposed as an abject failure, which has exacted a terrible toll of killed and wounded Russian military personnel, with ever-increasing protests throughout Russia and a mass exodus of men fleeing to avoid the “partial mobilisation”, he has now resorted to making threats that the use of nuclear weapons is under active consideration.

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This threat has been met with a robust response from the United States and its allies, with the former CIA director and retired four-star US army general, David Petraeus, stating last Sunday that retaliation from the West would destroy Russia’s troops and equipment in Ukraine, as well sinking its Black Sea fleet. US administration officials also have said that the US’s likely response to the use of nuclear weapons “has been repeatedly communicated to Moscow”.

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So, despite the warnings, if used, tactical nuclear weapons threaten to escalate the war to a scale that was formerly thought to be inconceivable.

Although they are designed to destroy enemy targets in a specific area without causing widespread radioactive fallout, their use would signal that Putin has reached such a level of desperation that he is prepared for the predicted consequences.

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US intelligence estimates that Russia has about 2,000 of these tactical weapons which can be fired from land, sea or air. Such weapons have never been used in conflict as no nuclear-armed country has been willing to risk the onset of an all-out nuclear war.

However, Putin might be willing to risk it. As Dr Patricia Lewis, head of the international security programme at the Chatham House think-tank put it, “they might not see it as crossing the big nuclear threshold. They could see it as part of their conventional forces.”

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Uncertain times indeed and all caused by one man’s megalomania, fuelled by an outdated view of the world order and the desire to be seen as the saviour of Russia (from an imagined threat).