Is Putin threatening to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine?
The one thing that makes Russian President Vladimir Putin such a difficult character to read is his unpredictability. It's the same thing that makes him successful. Would be opponents are fluimmoxed by his sudden shifts in policy, such as his statements denying any interest in annexing Crimea - which of course, he eventually did.
Now that Russian troops are fighting with Ukrainian rebels - after Putin swore they wouldn't - you have to wonder about some of the statements coming from Moscow and how much is bluster, and how much is real.
Yesterday, Putin suggested immediate talks should be held about forming a southeast Ukraine state. The import was clear: What was once considered the territory of Ukraine was now fair game - Putin's for the taking.. The Russian president is carving up Ukraine like a roast and won't be satisfied until he devours the whole thing.
Putin has also made clear that other nations shouldn't mess with Russia. Why?
On Friday, as Russian Federation tanks and troops poured across the border into eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin talked about his country’s most destructive weaponry. “I want to remind you that Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations,” he said. “This is a reality, not just words.” Russia, he told listeners, is “strengthening our nuclear deterrence forces.”
That same day, Putin used a term for eastern Ukraine meaning “New Russia.” So when he refers to repelling “any aggression against Russia” and speaks of “nuclear deterrence,” as he did on Friday, the Russian president is really warning us he will use nukes to protect his grab of Ukrainian territory.
For more than a generation, nuclear weapons were considered defensive only. In a few short sentences on Friday, however, Putin made these devices offensive in nature, just another tool to be employed by an aggressor. And to highlight his threat, on Aug. 14 at Yalta, the Crimean city he had seized this year, Putin mentioned “surprising the West with our new developments in offensive nuclear weapons about which we do not talk yet.”
Also in Yalta, where the Duma was meeting, the Russian leader spoke about renouncing the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia. The treaty outlaws ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles and is a foundation of the post-Cold War peace.
It is one thing to talk about withdrawing from the pact—Putin has been doing that since 2007—it is another to violate it, which Putin has apparently been doing since 2008, when Russia began testing cruise missiles again. And when the State Department’s Rose Gottemoeller raised the concern in May of last year, Russian officials tried to shut down the dialogue. According to The New York Times, they “said that they had looked into the matter and consider the issue to be closed.”
“Administration officials said the upheaval in Ukraine pushed the issue to the back burner,” the paper reported of the INF violation. Putin, with his comments Friday, just moved it to the front of the stove.
Are we to believe these threats? Taken out of context, they sound more like bluster employed for domestic political purposes than real threats. But placed in the context of Russia's serious violation of the INF treaty, the invasion, the threats against Baltic countries, and the Crimea annexation, Putin begins to sound like a man hell bent on getting his way. And he will brook no opposition to his plans.
Yes, Putin is unpredictable. Is he also insane? If he is sure the west won't respond to his aggression, anything is possible.