Russia’s annexation puts the world ‘two or three steps away’ from nuclear war

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LONDON – President Vladimir Putin’s statement on the annexation of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine marks the beginning of a new and very dangerous phase in the seven-month-old war, one that Western officials and analysts fear could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons for the first time in 77 years.

Putin has previously threatened to resort to nuclear weapons if Russia’s targets in Ukraine are thwarted. The annexation brings the use of a nuclear weapon one step closer by giving Putin a possible justification on the grounds that “our country’s territorial integrity is under threat,” as he put it in his speech last week.

He renewed the threat on Friday with an ominous remark that the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki set a “precedent” for the use of nuclear weapons, echoing references he has made in the past to the US invasion of Iraq as a precedent for Russian invasion of Ukraine.

US and Western officials say they still consider it unlikely that Putin will carry out his threats. Most likely, they say, he hopes to deter the West from providing increasingly sophisticated military assistance to Ukraine, while the mobilization of another 300,000 troops will enable Russia to reverse its military setbacks on the battlefield or on its own. at least put a stop to it.

Three maps explaining Russia’s annexations and losses in Ukraine

But the threats appear to have only strengthened Western determination to continue sending weapons to Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military continues to advance into Russian-occupied territory. The Ukrainian army on Saturday took control of the eastern city of Lyman in an area purportedly annexed by Russia.

The collapse of another Russian front line was greeted by calls for nuclear strikes by some military bloggers and political figures in Russia, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Putin. “More drastic measures must be taken, up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov wrote in a response to his Telegram channel.

Russian troops withdraw from Lyman, a day after annexation claims

In all four regions that Putin said it will annex – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya – Russia only controls part of the territory.

Now that the areas under fighting are considered Russian by Moscow, it is possible to chart the course of events towards the first use of a nuclear weapon since the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945.

“It’s a low-probability event, but it’s the worst case of nuclear brinkmanship since the 1980s,” said Franz-Stefan Gady, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “It is a very dangerous situation and it should be taken seriously by Western policy makers.”

US and European officials say they are taking the threats seriously. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there would be “catastrophic consequences” if Russia resorted to using nuclear weapons. He declined to specify what that would be, but said the exact consequences had been set out privately to Russian officials “at very high levels”.

“They understand very well what they would face if they went down that dark road,” he said.

US has sent private warnings to Russia against the use of a nuclear weapon

European officials say the threats have only strengthened their determination to support Ukraine.

“Nobody knows what Putin will decide to do, nobody,” said a European Union official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. “But he’s all in a corner, he’s crazy… and there’s no way out for him. The only way out for him is total victory or total defeat and we are working on the latter. We need Ukraine to win and that’s why we’re working to avoid worst-case scenarios by helping Ukraine win.”

The aim, the official said, is to provide Ukraine with the military support it needs to continue pushing Russia from Ukrainian territory, while politically pressuring Russia to agree to a ceasefire and withdrawal, he said. the officer.

And the pressure is working, “slowly,” the official said, to spread awareness in Russia and internationally that the invasion was a mistake. India, which appeared to have sided with Russia in the early days of the war, has expressed concern over Putin’s nuclear war speech and China, ostensibly Russia’s main ally, has indicated that it is beginning to feel uneasy about the Putin’s ongoing escalations.

But the annexation and mobilization of hundreds of thousands of additional troops have also been a reminder that Western strategy has not yet worked enough to convince Putin that he cannot win, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. for International Peace which was based in Moscow until earlier this year.

The West had hoped that Ukraine’s successes would force Putin to back down, but instead he is doubling down. “We see time and again that Vladimir Putin sees this as a major existential war and he is ready to raise the stakes if he loses on the battlefield,” Gabuev said.

“At the same time, I don’t think the West will back down, so it’s a very difficult challenge right now. We are two or three steps away” from Russia failing to achieve its goals and resorting to what was once unimaginable.

Those steps to secure its positions include Russia pushing hundreds of thousands of men onto the battlefield; escalating attacks on civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine; and perhaps initiating covert attacks on Western infrastructure.

While the United States and its European allies have abstained from direct charges, few doubt that Russia was behind the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, the EU official said.

“I don’t think anyone doubts. It’s the Kremlin’s handwriting,’ he said. “It’s an indication of ‘look what’s coming, see what we can do.’ ”

Nuclear weapons would likely be used only after mobilization, sabotage and other measures fail to turn the tide, and it’s unclear what Putin would accomplish by using them, Gady said.

Despite some wild predictions on Russian news that the Kremlin would lash out at a Western capital, with London as a favorite target, it’s more likely that Moscow would want to use one of its smaller, tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to try and gain advantage over of Ukrainian troops, Gady said.

The smallest nuclear weapon in Russia’s arsenal delivers an explosion of about 1 kiloton, one-fifteenth the size of the Hiroshima bomb, which would cause massive destruction, but in a more limited area.

Because the war is fought along a vast 1,500-mile frontline, the troops are spread too thinly to be a clear target whose destruction would change the course of the war. To make a difference, Russia would have to use several nuclear weapons or alternatively attack a major population center like Kiev, both of which would spell massive escalation, provoke almost certain Western retaliation and turn Russia into a pariah state, even with its allies, said Gady.

“From a purely military perspective, nuclear weapons would not solve Vladimir Putin’s military problems,” he said. “To change the operational picture, a single attack would not be enough, nor would it intimidate Ukraine into surrendering territory. It would cause the opposite, it would double Western support and I think there would be a response from the US.”

Therefore, many believe that Putin will not carry out his threats. “Although Putin is dangerous, he is not suicidal, and the people around him are not suicidal,” said Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army Europe.

Pentagon officials have said they have not seen any actions by Russia that would prompt the United States to change its nuclear stance.

Robyn Dixon contributed to this report from Riga, Latvia

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following organized referendums widely labeled as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in a clear response to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin announced a military mobilization on September 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic effort to reverse the setbacks in his war against Ukraine. The announcement sparked an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly conscripted men, and renewed protests and other forms of resistance to the war.

The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a major Russian retreat into the northeastern region of Kharkov in early September as troops fled the towns and villages they had occupied since the war’s early days, leaving behind large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Photographers for the Washington Post have been on the scene since the beginning of the war – here is some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways people in the US can support the Ukrainian people and what people around the world have donated.

Read our full coverage of the War between Russia and Ukraine. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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