When Russia’s 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, in an interview with the BBC, warns of the imminent use of nuclear weapons by his country, many in the West will at least feel a twinge of horror – followed by the thought: Let’s not provoke Vladimir Putin so much by offering more Military aid to Ukraine.
This is exactly what the Russian president would like us to think about – although Muratov is nothing but a Putin supporter: the independent newspaper he founded and edited, Novaya Gazeta, was shut down by the Kremlin.
“Two generations lived without the threat of nuclear war,” Muratov told the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow. “But that period is over. Does Putin press the nuclear button or not? Who knows? No one knows that.”
He went on to explain how Russian state propaganda prepares people to believe that nuclear war is not a bad thing. On the TV channels here, nuclear war and nuclear weapons are being promoted as if they were advertising pet food. . . So that the people here are ready.
It’s true that Russian TV shows about the war in Ukraine are full of pundits almost salivating about the prospect of ‘destroying’ Britain with nuclear strikes in retaliation for our unwavering military support for the Ukrainians – against a studio backdrop of mushroom clouds over London.
Many in the West will at least feel a twinge of terror – followed by a thought: Let’s not provoke Vladimir Putin (pictured) so much with more military aid to Ukraine.
“Two generations lived without the threat of nuclear war,” Muratov told the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow. “But that period is over. Does Putin press the nuclear button or not? Who knows? No one knows that. Pictured: Russia’s Yaris missile launch in October 2022
Then, last week, Putin announced that Russia would build a tactical nuclear weapons facility in Belarus, accompanied by a warning from that ally country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, that if Russia felt its very survival was threatened by the way the West was directing the weapons, it would be in danger. For Ukraine, Moscow can “use the most terrible weapon.”
The remarks followed Putin’s warning that Russia would ‘respond accordingly’ after the UK announced it would supply depleted uranium-containing Challenger 2 tank shells to Kiev, prompting some to suggest that London was provoking a dangerous nuclear escalation.
In fact, as Putin knows, Russia also uses such munitions and they have absolutely nothing to do with nuclear war.
In a later statement, the Russian president indicated that the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus was part of a plan “out of context” for the UK’s supply of depleted uranium shells to Ukraine.
More importantly, the facilities that Putin says will be built in Belarus are taking years to build — and there is no sign of any start for them.
In other words, while Putin has repeatedly tried to use the threat of nuclear war as a deterrent against the West, while our governments consider how to respond to Ukraine’s request for the weapons it needs, our media must be careful not to exaggerate the Kremlin’s threats. or exaggerating its importance.
This point was made well in a research paper published last week by the Chatham House think tank, “Russian Nuclear Scare: How Russia Uses Nuclear Threats to Shape Western Responses to Aggression.”
The author, Keir Giles, who has worked in Russia for many years, notes: ‘Russia has been very successful in constraining Western support for Ukraine by using threatening language about the potential use of nuclear weapons. Western leaders have explicitly justified the reluctance to provide basic military assistance to Ukraine by referring to Russian accounts of an uncontrollable escalation.
This is an amazing success for the Russian media campaigns. . . It is essential that responses to Russian intimidating rhetoric be guided by a realistic assessment of its basis in reality, rather than paralysis caused by fear.
The truth is that whenever the West – which in this context basically means the US government – gets over its nervousness about supplying certain classes of weapons to Ukraine, the Kremlin’s response is not to escalate, whatever its previous threats may have been.
So, at the start of the war, Putin warned the West that if he intervened at all, Russia’s “response will be immediate and lead you to consequences you have never seen before in your history” — and added, for the benefit of anyone who didn’t get these blunt hints, Russia is ” One of the most powerful nuclear countries.
But the West began to interfere, supplying weapons to Kiev on a hitherto unimaginable scale: Putin did not take any action at all against Washington or London, and still less at the nuclear level.
However, President Biden has for months refused to supply Ukraine with the HIMARS long-range artillery system, perhaps because of Putin’s ominous threat that Russia would strike new targets if the United States did.
But when Washington changed its policy and said it would send these devastating precision weapons systems to Kiev, Putin gave a kind of verbal shake-up that such weapons “do not change anything.”
Now, the weapon system that Ukraine has been begging for is the Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of about 200 miles and which would allow Kiev to strike key Russian supply routes into occupied southern Ukraine, greatly helping the campaign. To restore the vital Black Sea port of Mariupol, where thousands of Kremlin troops are massed.
However, Washington has so far refused to supply ATACMS. She claims there are problems with availability, but the main reason is clearly concern about how Putin will respond, in terms of ‘escalation’.
The same logic was applied to delays by the West, particularly Germany, to give a positive answer to Ukraine’s long standing request for tanks: there was a fear that this might cross some kind of line and even lead to nuclear retaliation by the Kremlin. .
Yet again, when the supposed red line was crossed, there was no ‘escalation’ from Russia – just more hysterical threats of nuclear strikes against Berlin from increasingly desperate players of pseudo-military shocks on state broadcasts.
The point is this: if Western governments really want Ukraine to force Russia out of the sovereign Ukrainian territory it has seized since its invasion just over a year ago, then it makes no sense for Kiev to refuse any of the weapons that would achieve such an outcome. . Most likely – and thus help bring the Russians to the negotiating table in a situation of greatest military damage.
There are some skeptics who say that Washington’s goal is to keep the war going for as long as possible, and that it doesn’t really want Ukraine to “win,” just so the Russians aren’t the winners.
But economically as much as it is military, it is not at all in the interest of the West that this war drag on for many years. Nor is it in our interest to increase the deterrent force for Putin’s nuclear explosion.
Obviously, it is not impossible that he would use a tactical nuclear weapon, if only in a demonstrative way, in Ukraine. I spoke to someone who had previously been closely involved, at the highest level, in our nuclear war games, and he thought it was very possible that Putin would do something like that.
But, he added, he sees “no possibility of nuclear war as traditionally understood” — a specter that Vladimir Putin and his promoters want us to fear unleashed.
Apart from everything else, it is not Putin who can physically or independently “push the button”: such a decision goes through a chain of orders. And even if a desperate Putin gave such an order, would his general staff obey him?
Last week, far short of the publicity of Dmitry Muratov’s warning of nuclear war, came a very different analysis from Russia’s most celebrated author, Mikhail Shishkin, on the occasion of the publication of his book Russia: War or Peace?
Asked by a Western interlocutor if Putin would “go nuclear,” Shishkin replied that while he was certain the Russian president would be willing to “push the red button,” “no one will fulfill his order to destroy the Earth. No one . . . “
Shishkin continued, “Putin’s generals told him they would take Kiev in three days, and he miscalculated. He failed. And now he is a false Caesar. No one will fulfill an order from a false Caesar.