Putin on nuclear weapons: ‘this is not a bluff’
The Russian leader made a stark warning in this morning's address
Vladimir Putin announced a new phase in his invasion of Ukraine today. Addressing the nation at 9am Moscow time, Putin declared that Russia would undergo ‘partial mobilisation’ — calling up those in the army reserve. The decree authorising it has already been signed. Mobilisation begins today.
According to Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, this will expand the Russian Armed Forces by some 300,000 people. According to Putin’s decree, they will serve indefinitely. And Russia’s governors, who are appointed by Putin personally, are tasked with overseeing the call-ups in their regions.
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Putin also provided some new clarity on his war aims. Although Putin had recently only emphasised the “liberation of the Donbass” — referring to the Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions — today he stressed that Russia’s conscripted masses will defend territory that Russia’s army has thus far seized. That applies to the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions as well, plus the ‘land bridge’ to Crimea that the Russian Army grabbed in the first weeks of the fight.
Putin also endorsed an effort that will see residents in Ukraine’s occupied territories ‘vote’ on being annexed by Russia. According to the Kremlin’s state television channel, representatives of the Russian occupation authorities will go house-to-house encouraging those living in the territory it now controls to vote. It will be wrapped up by 27 September.
The ‘referenda’ are straight out of Putin’s trusted playbook — similar sham votes were held in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014, and another was used to justify the annexation of Crimea. This time, however, they come amid extremely heavy fighting — and unlike Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian forces are actively fighting within the internal borders of all the territories in question. But Putin’s escalations did not stop there.
He declared that Russia was prepared to use “all the tools at its disposal” in order to defend its territorial integrity, emphasising that such declarations should not be seen as a “bluff”. He said: “This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”
Putin implied that the nuclear umbrella would also therefore apply to the soon-to-be annexed territories. Russia’s occupation authorities have said that they will consider the votes binding on the sovereignty of their regions — even parts that have never come under Russian occupation.
The escalation marks the first, albeit partial, mobilisation in Russia since the Soviet-Afghan War. But according to Putin, the conflict in Ukraine remains a ‘special military operation’.
The Russian leader once told a parable about how he was cornered by a rat as a child, causing him to tremble with fear. It has often been taken as an invocation against being politically pressured. But Putin also used the story to portray himself as the hero, alleging that he subsequently outran the rat and slammed a door on its face. That appears now to be his strategy in Ukraine.
Can anyone doubt that if Adolf had nuclear weapons he would have used them even if they resulted in the obliteration of Germany. After all he never sued for peace and was content for Germany to be pulverised by conventional weapons.
A psychopath does not worry about other people’s death. Putin probably thinks Biden will not have the stomach to obliterate Russia if nuclear weapons are used in Europe and that anyway he will be OK in his shelter for the limited life he probably has left.
We are undoubtedly more at risk of nuclear death than we were when comparatively rational Soviet leaders were in charge of Russia.
And rational leaders in charge of the West…
Amen. It strikes me as ironic that the left in America were certain, in 2016, that if Trump was elected, he would cause a nuclear war and economic collapse.
Left? Is any literate, independent and critical thinker still referring to Dims as “the left”?
Yes – agree re Soviet leaders – much better than Putin’s gang of thugs
This is the real danger in a strategy that doesn’t give the other side a path to de-escalate without humiliation. It’s a gambling strategy – in order to achieve total victory (restoration of Ukraine’s original borders, humiliation of Russia, perhaps the overthrow of Putin) you must back him into a corner and hope that he capitulates, even though he has the power to escalate. Capitulation would be the rational path for him – so we convince ourselves that he would behave rationally, and therefore our gambling strategy is perfectly ‘rational’. But human beings are not reliably rational. Once Putin, the man, feels he has nothing left to lose, his final act could well be to call our bluff. ‘Death before dishonour’ he may cry out, as so many have in the past. In my view, a strategy that relies on the other side to behave rationally (and bets the future of the entire human race) is not a rational strategy.
Straw man argument.
Whether or not Ukraine attains total victory is totally unknown. If truth were told, Western countries would be satisfied with a status quo ante, and an iron clad peace treaty.
How was that a straw man argument? Do you even know what that means?
Where is your evidence that NATO wants “total victory?” Or that Ukraine can attain it?
Ukraine was attacked. It is recovering land lost. What else should it do?
Ridiculous hyperbole about supposed NATO plots to create a unipolar world belong in Russia’s Duma, not in any western forum.
Restoration of the borders of the Ukraine would only be humiliation for Putin, not for Russia. The overthrow of Putin would be victory for Russia, and using nuclear weapons would result in the total humiliation of Russia. The answer is to make clear to Putin’s allies, and other Russians with much to lose, that NATO would regard any first use of nuclear weapons as an existential threat to Europe, and would respond in kind to Russia itself. Pull back to your own borders, and get rid of Putin and his cronies, and you get back to your status quo ante, apart from the deaths your adventurism cost you; anything else, you lose big time.
It may be that the russian military would not follow through if he pushed the button…..there must be some integrity and gonads in there somewhere surely…
Well for him to push the nuclear button requires the cooperation of others equally mad and equally cowardly (a strong man restrains himself, a weak one gives vent to everything: the queen is a good example of a strong, consistent leader as he isn’t and this would be a conspiracy of suicide, rather than resisting the temptation to give in to ego and throw all life on this planet away)
it’s a way to go down in history…
A very poor comparison.
Adolf was faced with armies closing in on him. Death was imminent. His whole Dream World was collapsting.
Putin is no ideologue, however, just an opportunist who thinks Russian nationalism will keep him in power. He’s employing the “mad man” theory of gamesmanship. If you portray yourself as mad, your opponents will just give you what you want, out of fear of annihilation.
Indeed, even if things get worse, Putin can still sue for peace, or hang on to what the Ukrainians don’t capture.
The bottom line is: anyone who has over $100 billion stashed overseas isn’t going to end the world.
Someone being treated for cancer who figures he probably won’t live long enough to enjoy those billions might think differently.
Unless he gives into fear and is worried about humiliation. He should have just let Russia carry on modernising instead of seeking personal glory as the man who broke the bank of Monte Carlos, so to speak
he’s hardly venturing overseas to spend it
And the Japanese would have used them too if they had them.
But that was in the days when people were obedient, believed in eternity through religion, and thought sacrificing your life was a noble duty.
Most modern Russians, I sense don’t think like that. Even the nutters that run North Korea haven’t done it.
Oh well he’s done then. As anyone that’s been in such a situation knows, someone who declares he’s not bluffing is always bluffing!
Let’s hope so!
Absolutely! Let’s spin the cylinder, put the gun to our heads and pull the trigger, because if there’s only one bullet and five empty slots, it probably won’t kill us! Gambling is such a rush. And the higher the stakes, the greater the rush.
It ain’t a gamble, but a ‘tell’. It’s the same tactic all failed bluffers try.
You sure you’re not gambling? Calling ‘bluffs’ because you see ‘tells’ – I mean it sure sounds like the language of gambling to me.
Even Russia will have fail safe systems in place to guard against a madman, so I doubt that Putin could press the button without the assistance of underlings. These underlings have families. If they believe that he is about to go nuclear he will likely fall out of a window.
Surprised it’s not happened already. The generals want to have a life for their families too.
There seem to be quite a few in his circle, including Medvedev and the woman who runs RT News, who would welcome nuclear escalation. Yes it is insane, but there is historical precedent for such insanity.
They need to be shown “NUKEMAP” so that they can see what happens to their own localities when the counter attack arrives. I suppose they think that their weapons and/or delivery systems are perfect (just like the rest of their armaments!) and as Russia is blessed with wide open spaces they can just drive out of town to escape the explosive element. Perhaps, like a lot of civilians (also in the West) they don’t really understand what is likely to happen afterwards.
See Jeremy’s note below, with which I agree alas.
Indeed, but they are simply agreeing with the boss, which is a common career move. They are not the ones making the decisions
Much as I disagreed with the Soviets ideologically, I had more trust in their humanity than I do in Putin’s criminal gang.
The interesting thing is that he clearly thinks that we think it’s a bluff.
We don’t, though. I don’t think anyone thinks he’s bluffing, especially not our military chiefs.
We may at some stage however have to call his bluffs.
Bluffs are irrelevant. The truth is that at some stage we will need to use nuclear weapons against Russian forces in Ukraine.
That doesn’t even make sense. They would have to be surgical nuclear strikes. I don’t think such a thing exists.
I honestly cannot see how nukes would ever be used over the war in Donbas.
Losing Donbas or Kherson is not an existential threat to either Putin or Russia. You only use nukes as a last resort–to protect the nation.
As to the “mobilization,” it will take months for the potential 300,000 to be trained and sent to the front. Moreover, Russia has no devoted training facilities. Each unit does that, and with most officers and NCOs casualties, that will be very difficult.
Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to train from a potential pool of over 10 million. Many are trained in the West. The advantage is only growing.
The main reason Vova did this was to quiet his pro-war faction for a while. Predictably, they are already treating it as a full mobilization.
But once they realize it’s only another Vova-half-measure, they will become even more enraged.
He might use battlefield nukes if he thinks the west will do nothing. And we could probably only help the Ukrainians by providing ‘iron dome’ style protection.
Though I suppose the world would be so appalled by the first use of a battlefield nuke in a city that no fly zones might be politically achievable to stop any more nukes in cities.
No fly zones don’t protect against rockets.
The latest fighter planes can detect and shoot down missiles, though not hypersonic missiles.
You must be terrible at chess. You only think one move ahead. So what happens after the nuke? No fly zone. Then what? Uh, well quite a few of our jets will be shot down, and Russia will consider it direct war with the west. So we’ll have to escalate again. Then they will escalate again. You always quote the Sting song “if the Russians love their children. . .” – there’s another line in that song you might think on a bit: “There’s no such thing as a winnable war, its a lie we don’t believe anymore”.
Oddly enough, it nearly always turns out that one side wins, and the other loses.
But I know, history isn’t nearly as exciting as hyperbolic rhetoric.
Even the computer in the movie “War Games” figured out that some games cannot be won and best not be played. Maybe you need to sit down with a note pad and play a few thousand games of tic-tac-toe to better understand the concept.
Hey I was pretty good at chess! And I hate that Sting song too, except for the obvious corn of ‘Russians loving their children’.
Its funny you quote chess and then state there are no winnable wars. Are you sure you understand chess?
Well I understand chess enough to know that you can’t “quote chess”.
So Martin Logan thinks the Donbas is not an existential issue for Russia. What if he’s wrong and the powers that be in the Kremlin think otherwise?
It is an existentail threat – this is a proxy war between USA/NATO and Russia to weaken/divide up/regime change/colour revolution/resource grab a la Yeltsin/ keep Germany down/all of the above. You would have to be dumb to think that having negotiated two Minsk Treaties to manage the region, both of them get binned for no reason. Even our own people in the West tells us this is what it is about for pete’s sake!
You have no idea what you are talking about re training troops – Russia has maybe 2 million trained reservists to call up at immediate notice. That’s why this is labelled “partial” mobilisation.
If Ukraine has such a fantastic pool of military potential to train why are they making older men and teenagers serve? What happened to the largest NATO trained army in Europe? It is being slowly but surely wiped out for a “last gasp of empire” folly by USA hawks, leading Europe by the nose.
Russia can no more tolerate losing this war on their border or survive intact aftewards than USA could lose to Mexico.
Ukraine refuses to attend peace talks with Russia while the West is funnelling in $billions of old weapons stock and sending the dosh to Raytheon et al.
It is not escalation by Putin I am worried about – it is whoever is in charge of “Joe Biden”!!
Probably the most realistic post here today. God help us all.
Are you bonkers? What possible justification could there be for that?
You really want to live on a post nuclear war world? I mean I get that we should threaten nukes if he uses them but unilateral use destroys the earth or at least the northern hemisphere. China will survive.
Also we aren’t at war with Russia.
Wonderful idea Prof Riordan!
During the Covid thingamajig my considered view on the moral merits of humanity were fundamentally altered. Before the grotesque abuses of power by the medical establishment and governments in the West and across the world I believed, on balance, humans were more good/virtuous than evil.
Now I am tending to believe the opposite – that humans are, on balance, more evil than virtuous. You kinda nudged me further along that path! Thanks.
Mutually Assured Destruction may, on balance, be no bad thing for planet Earth.
So perhaps, it’s best to give Gaia another roll of the dice.
This shows Vova’s usual muddled thinking.
All of those oblasts are partially or mostly controlled by Ukraine.
Does he nuke those parts that Ukraine already occupies? Or does he nuke them if they go any further?
It isn’t a bluff.
But it is the last throw of the dice by a very indecisive and badly educated leader.
Most countries have a mafia of some sort. In Russia’s case, the mafia have the country.
Is the world really still capable of being appalled by the spectre of nuclear holocaust? Or are we too stupefied by our obsessions with so many inconsequential matters to be truly outraged by this dictators’ unfathomable selfish brutality as well?
Protest this madness!
Let’s do a ‘BLM’ – times 1000!
Perhaps people who can change things will listen then.
Quite right. And the fact that it doesn’t scare us anymore means the probability of it happening has never been higher.
I’m actually struck with how Russian this all is.
Bump into any old babushka, and she will make the same sort of apocalyptic threats as Putin–which are never carried out. Ne’er do wells on the street try to see whether you are frightened. If you are, they’ll try to rob you. But just put up a bold face, and they back off.
It’s the wonderful sound of the threat that intoxicates the Real Russians who follow Putin. They were thrilled when Soviet leaders threatened to overtake the West, or bury it. Now the threat of total war reminds them of all the Russian WW2 movies (боевики) Putin has made over the years, to show how Russia alone beat Nazi Germany.
They see the same thing every day on the television, and sagely nod their heads, knowing that the West is too weak and cowardly to stand up to bold Russia and its clever leader.
All Real Russians think that–until the moment they get their call-up notice–or have to sacrifice their own personal welfare. Then they start thinking:
“How do I escape all this nonsense?”
Well, the trick in this situation is “who uses nukes first” (and I am referring to tactic-level nukes, for clarity) and whether said initiator has a justification for it. Putin’s power is obviously declining within his own country, as people are suffering under his stupid expansionist plan. Parents are getting their kids returned in body bags, and the Vietnam experience tells us just how impactful that can be. So call me naïve, but if Putin were to initiate use of tactic nukes over some ludicrous fantasy like “liberating oppressed Russians living in Ukrainian territory” he would either get ousted or assassinated. In fact, he has likely not been sleeping twice at the same address for a while already.
The people whose sons are returning in body bags (or more likely whose bodies will never be found) are mostly not ethnic Russians, but lesser breeds from far corners of the vast country. Even calling up 300,000 reservists the authorities will try to pick men who live nowhere near Moscow or St Petersburg or other large cities in European Russia. Of course anyone with enough money will buy their way out of conscription: the system is irredeemably corrupt. But eventually the truth of Russia’s military humiliation and Putin’s grotesque miscalculation will get through.
After reading the current 45 comments, I’d add only one:
A lot of nuclear winter deniers here.
Based on recent Russian performance I doubt their nukes even work.
Little publicised fact. Russia declined to recognize the 2014 votes in Luhansk and Donetsk to become autonomous regions within Ukraine (not to join Russia) until February 2022. They stood back while the Minsk Agreements were negotiated for the Ukrainian government to progress this autonomy for these regions themselves but they never applied them and then started terrorising the regions instead.
Does standing back in a neutral stance for 7 years, while another country govt says it is working it out sound like the actions of a hasty, pride driven psychopath to you?
If he’s not bluffing and uses nuclear weapons, then he is not only a bully but an idiot as what use will an irradiated ground and populace dying of radiation sickness be to anyone, including himself?
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