Why Putin will soon have to nuke Ukraine: Revelation 16

Russia Ukraine War Nuclear Threats Explainer

Why Putin will soon have to choose between losing in Ukraine or using nuclear weapons

September 29, 2022 01:55 PM

Tom Rogan, National Security Writer & Online Editor

Ukraine has both the political and popular resolve to liberate its territory. Thanks to the United States, Britain, Poland, mand the Baltic states , Kyiv also has the economic and military means to believe it can achieve its ambition. In contrast, it is increasingly clear that Russia lacks the popular resolve to endure a bloody war. Equally important, Russia lacks the economic and military means to conduct a drawn-out war.

In the coming months, Vladimir Putin will thus be forced into one of two choices. He can end the war by ceding back those areas of Ukraine that his forces occupy. (Ukraine might allow Putin to keep at least some of Crimea under any ceasefire agreement.) Alternatively, Putin can escalate by using nuclear weapons in an attempt to end continued Western support for Kyiv and pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky into a Russian-favorable ceasefire.

What Putin cannot do, however, is continue to wage war in a conventional fashion.

Top line: Putin’s draft of at least 300,000 conscripts — possibly to rise to more than 1 million — cannot reverse his recent record of battlefield losses. That’s because those losses are not the result of manpower shortages per se, though that is a factor. Rather, Putin’s central problem is that his military lacks credible leadership and professionalism and is beset by low morale and terrible logistics . The scale of this challenge is underlined by the inability of Russian forces to conduct even orderly ground retreats, let alone combined arms offensives. As in eastern Ukraine, this has opened Russian lines to high-mobility Ukrainian flanking attacks, which enable Ukraine to retake vast areas of territory while forcing rolling Russian surrenders and abandonment of priceless equipment.

Putin’s logistics problem is only set to grow. Russia, after all, is rapidly depleting its stocks of artillery, missiles, bombs, and other weapons. This is to say nothing of the thousands of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, electronic warfare vehicles, air defense systems, and aircraft that Ukraine has captured or destroyed. The Kremlin is desperately attempting to hide this military supply chain crisis, but Western intelligence services are convinced that it is critical. Indeed, one need only look at leaked videos on social media that show Russian conscripts issued archaic rifles being told to bring their own sleeping bags to war. One need only look at the increasingly desperate calls by top Kremlin officials to bolster military production. One need only look at the increasingly ludicrous, if escalatory, rhetoric on Russian state media.

Furthermore, there is Russia’s economy. Sanctions and the voluntary dislocation of foreign investors have smashed Russia’s economic foundations. Putin’s oligarchs are retreating at home and abroad, transitioning from London fine dining to variable window jumping. Russia’s energy, finance, and export industries are in crisis. Inflation remains higher than in the U.S., the importation of high-value goods is increasingly difficult, and structural inefficiencies such as weak infrastructure and corruption are only worsening. Europe is gradually weaning itself off Russian gas and oil, although Viktor Orban’s support , a new Italian government skeptical of sanctions, and the approaching European winter offer Putin a shot at dividing the West.

All of this means that Russia has reached or will soon reach a point where it can no longer launch major combined arms offensives. And those offensives are the only military means by which Russia can restrain Ukraine’s battlefield momentum and eventually win this war. Putin’s only conventional military alternative is to use his new conscripts as cannon fodder, forcing Ukraine to spread its forces thin and expend resources managing operations across a vast front — except the Russian people do not see the war in Ukraine as their president would have them see it. That is to say, as an heir to the existential “Great Patriotic War” against the Nazis, a war deserving of selfless sacrifice. Many Russians still support Putin’s presidency , but far fewer want to fight in Ukraine.

Take the widespread protests against mobilization. Evincing its growing concern, the Kremlin has issued rare apologies for mistakes made during the draft’s rollout. A growing number of middle-class professions are also being granted exemptions from service. But that poses its own Catch-22: increasing pressure on Russia’s rural hinterland and ethnic minority populations to make up the manpower difference. As the nonprofessional soldiers’ body bags start coming home, the Kremlin risks new political instability in its far-flung oblasts (an enduring cause for Kremlin paranoia).

This leaves Putin with his literal nuclear option: launching an unprecedented strike on Ukraine to regain the strategic initiative. Russian nuclear doctrine and Putin’s unavoidably personal-political link to this war mean that such a strike cannot be ruled out. Certainly, Russia’s formal absorption of Ukrainian territory, as effected via fixed referenda this week, is partly designed to provide political justification for the “defensive” use of nuclear weapons. But it’s not that simple. Using nuclear weapons would mean near-total global isolation and suffocating sanctions (for one example, China would likely break with Russia in fear of losing any influence with Europe ). Putin must also contemplate possible direct Western military intervention as the cost of a nuclear attack — but with the attack offering no appreciable battlefield shift to Russia’s favor. And Putin’s generals might reject such an order , instead deposing their commander in chief.

Put another way, Putin has a problem.

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