Putin’s Red Button

Will he use it in Ukraine? Most likely, yes.
Putin and Russians are morally ready for that.
What the collective West will do then?

Putin's blitzkrieg has failed and the war has entered a protracted phase as neither side is willing to give up. On the other hand, there are constant negotiations between Russia and Ukraine at the level of special representatives. This is understandable - Ukraine badly needs peace and President Zelenskyy is constantly striving to negotiate, but Putin did not start this war in order to make peace. For a truce, Ukraine (and the West) must first make Putin to want that also, and Ukrainians have already done a lot to achieve that.

Ukraine reports about 15,000 Russian servicemen killed. The Americans cautiously confirm 7,000-15,000. Interestingly, the Russian newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” has published an article on March 21 about the losses in the war, citing figures of Russian Defense Ministry: 9,861 Russian soldiers had been killed in action and another 16,153 were wounded, but immediately removed this information. 15,000 killed Russian soldiers and officers (other estimates put it at up to 26,000) was enough to have the USSR end the war in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan war lasted for 10 years, and now in Ukraine Russians had already lost a comparable number of servicemen in four weeks.

Putin refuses to negotiate directly with Zelenskyy, which means he still hopes to win. He wants Ukraine to meet his demands first:
- neutrality and renounce from NATO membership;
- disarmament and mutual security guarantees in the context of the Austrian model;
- something that Russians call “denazification”;
- removing obstacles to the widespread use of Russian language in Ukraine;
- the recognition of the annexation of Crimea and “Donetsk” and “Luhansk” People's Republics in Donbass.

Ukraine refuses so far to comply with those demands. This means that Ukrainians don't feel that bad, despite the war, bombing of civilians and, in particular, the desperate situation in Mariupol, which also rejected the Russians' ultimatum. They offered the townspeople and the defenders of the city to lay down their arms and only then to create humanitarian corridors for the population to leave. Mariupol refused.

Meanwhile, Western economic sanctions have started to work, although not enough so far. More than 100 big companies across nearly every industry have severed their business relationships with Russia. A couple of dozen yachts of Russian oligarchs and some Russian airplanes were arrested in different countries, some extra personal sanctions were imposed on the Russian elite, around $300 billion of assets of the Central Bank of Russia are frozen ... After that Russian ruble has lost around 40 percent of its value, slumping from 80 rubles to 150 to USD. However it has clawed back of that quite quickly, trading now at around 105 rubles to USD.

Ukraine's leading negotiator in peace talks with Russia and senior aide of the Ukrainian President Mykhailo Podolyak informed what Ukraine needs most right now: more air defenses and anti-tank weapons (since there is no “no-fly zone”), imposition of a full embargo on Russian oil and gas, and stricter financial sanctions.

The fact is that Russia keeps on earning about $1.1 billion a day from selling oil and gas to Europe and can spend this money to continue the war in Ukraine. Thus oil and gas embargo is the most effective sanction which can be imposed on Russia today.

Ukrainians are not willing to cede their country to Putin. There is a strong hatred to Putin and all Russians in general, who have been supporting their criminal president for so many years in a row. There is a real people's war in Ukraine now against the Russian occupation.

President Zelenskyy personally does not seem inclined to accept Putin's ultimatums either. Oligarch Poroshenko, I think, would have rather accepted them, citing "saving the lives of Ukrainians," so it's a good thing Mr. Zelenskyy is not a professional politician. In the history of Ukraine just Ukrainian elites have always been the greatest traitors of Ukraine (like V. Yanukovych, for example). I was talking by phone to some friends in Kyiv recently. It seemed to me that this war had become so people’s one that even if President Zelenskyy would try to make a deal with Putin, the people would not let him do that. And on top of that, those people are armed now. That is why, in particular, Zelenskyy correctly proposes to hold a referendum on possible peace agreement with Russia, otherwise he could be removed from the office despite all his popularity in the West. Ukrainians are very likely to vote against concessions to a Russian dictator, even despite the threat of a nuclear strike.

By the way, it would be good to find out what Putin means by "denazification”.
I think this is the most important (and most idiotic) point of his demands. For some reason Mr. Putin called Ukrainians "nationalists", “Neo-Nazis” and therefore sent his troops to Ukraine to “denazify” and “demilitarize” it. However, no one else in the world considers Ukrainians "nationalists" or "neo-Nazis”. Moreover, these "nationalists" have elected a native Russian-speaking Jew, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to be their president. This is a pure internationalism.

Thus, "denazification" is simply a pretext. It seems that Mr. Putin wants Ukrainians to give up everything Ukrainian by his demand of "denazification", but what is in return? Putin doesn't say that, but the answer is obvious: all Russian stuff because Russians and Ukrainians are "one people” in his opinion. Thus that would be simply a replacement the mythical Ukrainian "nationalism" (which, apparently, Putin is very "afraid" of) with Russian nationalism, which exists safely in Russia due to the same Mr. Putin. This seems to be exactly what the Ukrainians do not want to happen.

So there is an irreconcilable conflict between the two countries. The better Ukrainians fight, the more money and weapons they get from the West, the fewer resources Putin has, and the better the Western sanctions work, the more likely a nuclear (apparently tactical, which is less powerful) strike on Ukraine is. As early as February 28, 2022 Putin has put Russia's nuclear forces on “special alert”. It is also possible that Russia will use biological or chemical weapons. Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB colonel and ex-deputy of the Russian State Duma, has said on March 11, 2022 that his acquaintances of high-ranking Russian politicians were morally ready to use their "next argument" - nuclear weapons, and that the Russian servicemen would unequivocally carry out this order. I can add here that the Russians were ready to use nuclear weapons back in 2014 in Crimea.

Who could prevent a very possible nuclear strike on Ukraine?
Only Putin, but he is unlikely to want to.

The West? No, French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholz met with Putin personally and failed. The US and NATO have said from the beginning they would not interfere.

Middle East? Prime Minister of Israel N. Bennett, and Turkish President R. Erdogan can do nothing either.

China will remain neutral. President Xi Jinping and Putin understand each other well, Xi has a similar situation with Hong Kong now.

Russian intelligentsia in the cities? They will not take to the squares en masse, and single pickets are easily neutralized. Even an intra-elite coup and the physical removal of Putin are more likely to happen.

Russian politicians mention nuclear strike as an acceptable option.

The “deep Russia” as usual will support Putin blindly against the "Ukrainian Neo-Nazis”.

All that mean that cornered Putin is very likely to launch a “preventive” tactical nuclear strike or use his chemical or biological weapons, as usual, doing that for self-defence. He can also stage a nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl or Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and blame it all on the "Ukrainian nationalists", so there is a multiple choice.

I think there will be no nuclear strike on NATO member states now. It is possible on Ukraine (Kiev, for example), but it strongly depends on Putin's emotional state at that moment. Organizing an environmental disaster at Ukrainian nuclear power plants - "Chernobyl 2.0" or "Zaporizhzhya 1.0" - is very possible. And this will probably happen within 2-3 months since the occupation of Ukraine de facto has stopped and the sanctions are strangling Russian economy. Putin must decide rather quickly whether or not to carry out a general mobilization in Russia to add troops to Ukraine. Besides, Putin is probably afraid that sanctions might make Russian people to take to the streets because in that case even the National Guard of Russia will not help.

What will the collective West do if the Russians still launch a tactical nuclear strike, etc. on Ukraine? Only then they will, apparently, fulfill Ukraine's requests for a "no-fly zone", the toughest sanctions and a complete oil and gas embargo on Russia. As usual, it will be too late. The situation was similar with the beginning of this war: Putin has been warned dozens of times against aggression, and yet it happened. Thousands of innocent people have already died.

Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians would die in a "limited" nuclear strike. So maybe is it better and easier to give Ukraine what it needs now for not taking the responsibility for the deaths of many more Ukrainians? There are now more and more people in the West who suggest just that. At least, provide the Ukrainian Air Force with those Polish MiG-29 fighter jets which the West has not been able to hand over to Ukraine for two weeks.

After all, Ukraine constantly offers the West exactly what it loves so much - to give what is needed, impose effective sanctions, defeat Putin together and not to fight itself. The Ukrainians are ready to fight alone, they need just weapons and right sanctions imposed.

The collective West has already done a lot for Ukraine, so every Ukrainian is thankful for that. Unfortunately, this is not enough - Putin has raised the stakes too high by his invasion and thousands of lives of Ukrainians taken.

If Putin uses nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, the West will have to realize that:
- World War 3 began on February 24, 2022;
- Mutual assured destruction (MAD) doctrine doesn’t work with “mad” rulers;
- “mad” rulers look like “normal” ones;
- there can be no local war (like local disease or local environmental catastrophe) in a global society with its weapons, communications and technologies. Everyone participates more or less.
- the economy is inseparable from politics, and it is better not to deal with countries of alien worldview;
- each country is responsible for its own policy and for what it did/did not do;
- the war in Ukraine must end only with the complete military defeat of Russia, otherwise it will end with the genocide of the Ukrainian people. There will be no "golden mean”;
- if the West does not want to contribute to the genocide of the Ukrainians, it needs to get out of its comfort zone now, refuse to buy oil and gas from the Russians and increase sanction pressure until Russia asks for a mercy;
- Russia must sincerely repent and pay reparations to Ukraine, otherwise everything will happen again in the future. The sanctions should not be eased until then;
- the current war in Ukraine would not have happened if each country had expressed its attitude to Russia's actions timely and acted in accordance with its principles;
- if a country has no principles or if they are wrong, it heads to its collapse or disaster (including nuclear war).

Putin and other war criminals believe that as long as they have nuclear weapons they are unattainable for International Criminal Court in Hague. So far, that has been the case. Ukraine is already doing everything it can to change this status quo. Right now, the collective West can help Ukraine and thus take some relative risk, while Ukrainians have already taken an absolute risk and were dying on the battlefields and in shelled cities.

P.S. Dear Reader! I am very much interested in your opinion on the subject of this article. Please, write a comment or ask a question if you want to clarify something.
Igor Chykalov
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