When President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov was asked by CNN about the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, he gave the following response:
“We have a concept of domestic security and it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept.”
It was not the most reassuring answer under the circumstance as he left the threat looming, presumably as a warning against any plans of Western countries to step up their involvement in Ukraine. The real worry is that there is only one man taking the decisions in Russia and if Putin decides there is an existential threat to Russia, there is nobody who would challenge him or argue that none of the reasons for nuclear arms to be used were in play.
The reality is that Putin has proved, beyond doubt, that he is unpredictable and capable of anything. And with his war in Ukraine not going as planned it is entirely possible that his military’s failure could be seen as an existential threat to Russia. We hope it will never come to this, as the destruction and the human suffering inflicted on Ukraine by Russia has already devastated the country little prospect of it ending soon.
The Russian military having failed to achieve their objectives are now hitting civilian targets – too many apartment blocks and hospital have been destroyed to claim these were mistakes – presumably in an attempt to crush Ukrainian morale and cause such mass-scale damage to its economic assets that its leadership would be forced to accept Putin’s peace conditions. The relentless bombardment of Mariupol, which refuses to surrender, is an example of how the Russian army is seeking to end resistance.
“We do not indiscriminately bomb towns, areas where people live and social infrastructure targets. We do not do what others have done, flattening entire towns and villages,” said Russia’s ambassador to Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy in a recent newspaper interview. Admittedly, he was repeating the official line of his government, which went as far as to claim that Ukrainians had bombed a hospital destroyed by Russian forces.
Propaganda and fake news are an integral part of war, and we can only hope that talk about the possible use of nuclear weapons is just that. It was not long ago, however, that Putin’s spokespeople were mocking claims by US intelligence that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine.