Commentary on Political Economy

Monday, 28 February 2022

 Time to get Putin’s fingers away from nuclear button








It may be, as US reports say, that Russia’s top two military officials looked stricken during Sunday’s live television broadcast when Vladimir Putin ordered them to place the nation’s nuclear arsenal into an elevated “special mode of combat duty”. Given the sobering reality that Russia has the world’s largest nuclear stockpile, however, with 4447 nuclear warheads, 1588 already deployed on ballistic missiles, that does nothing to diminish the significance of the warmongering despot’s ominous announcement. It adds another serious dimension to an already perilous crisis and underlines the need for unwavering unity among the world’s democracies in their determination to confront and defeat Mr Putin’s criminal conduct and bring him to heel.

Thanks to the heroic resistance of Ukraine’s people as they bravely fight for their liberty, the war so far has not gone Mr Putin’s way. According to intelligence sources quoted in an authoritative report in The Times, Mr Putin believed he could capture Kyiv and as many as four other major cities within 48 hours of launching the invasion. Plans in the Kremlin were to force Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender and immediately hand over his country to Russia at the historic Pechersk Lavra monastery in Kyiv, which Mr Putin visited in 2004.

It is doubtless a reflection of the Russian ruler’s frustration that, faced with the reality things have not gone entirely according to his bumptious expectations, he is now, in effect, referring to a potential nuclear option. It would be hard to conceive of a more outrageous move by Mr Putin or one that better conveys his malevolent disregard for human decency and the rule of international law. Like the US, which has 3708 nuclear warheads, of which 1644 are strategically deployed, Russia has a number of readiness levels: constant, elevated, military danger and full. Mr Putin has raised his nuclear capability to “elevated”, which means commanders must be ready for him to order an immediate nuclear strike if he wants one. That is a sobering thought in the context of what appears to be his frustration. His justification for this monstrous threat was, he said, “Western countries are not only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, I mean here illegitimate sanctions that everyone knows about. But the top officials of leading NATO countries are also allowing aggressive statements against our country”.

In the face of his belligerence, NATO and the EU are showing unprecedented and welcome unity and determination. Even Germany, long a laggard reluctant to do anything that might upset Russian gas supplies, has undergone a dramatic epiphany under new Chancellor Olaf Scholz. After years of pandering to Mr Putin, it is rushing military equipment to Ukraine. It also has upped its military spending to beyond the 2 per cent of gross domestic product level former chancellor Angela Merkel refused to meet. Other EU nations also are sending military equipment. For the first time the EU is paying for weapons to be used against the Russian invaders. Across the world, even the sovereign wealth funds of countries such as Norway are ridding themselves of tens of billions of dollars of Russian investments. So are vast global corporations such as BP. Much of Russia’s $US600bn ($834bn) in reserves held in Western banks has been frozen. Flights by Russian airlines to much of the world have been barred.

No wonder even Mr Putin’s multi-billionaire oligarch friends – who have greatly enriched themselves and the Russian ruler – are squealing as they face being thrown out of the Western countries in which they prefer to live. They deserve no sympathy after corruptly benefiting from a regime that disgracefully invades and murders free people.

The Russian ruler’s invocation of the nuclear bogey should make the democratic world even more resolute in its determination to do whatever it takes to help Ukraine defeat Mr Putin’s intolerable aggression and the threat it poses, not only to Ukraine but to the entire world. He has only himself to blame for the way much of the world and also many Russians have turned on him. He would do well not to forget that its vast nuclear arsenal did not save the former Soviet Union he is trying to recreate from being swept into the dustbin of history by popular dissent.

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