We continue to hear thinly-veiled threats from the Russians whenever they experience a setback or more western aid arrives in Ukraine, reminding us that they have a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. We mostly hear this sort of barking from Sergey Lavrov, but former president Dmitry Medvedev gets in on the action as well. If these threats are intended to break the will of Zelensky or the Ukrainian people in general, however, it doesn’t seem to be working. Sky News in Australia sent reporters to speak to some of the Ukrainians on the front lines or sifting through the rubble of the flattened cities in the eastern and southern parts of the country. One person they interviewed, going only by the name Seva, declared that they would rather face the prospect of a nuclear attack than be forced to live as Russians. And many of his fellow volunteers near the front lines feel the same way.
“Everyone is tired of war, but [on the] other hand, I’d say 99.9% of Ukrainians do understand that no peaceful negotiation with such a country as Russia is possible. It’s just war, war ’til the end.
“I was talking to many people and they [said], ‘we don’t want to live in occupied territories, we don’t want to live in new so-called Russia’.” …
“If you are talking about even nuclear attacks many people say, ‘we don’t care. Let then bomb us. Let them kill us but we don’t want to be Russians.’
We rarely have the opportunity to shower praise on the mainstream media these days, but the reporting that continues to come out of Ukraine has been impressive. Their work continues even though dozens of reporters have been killed during the war thus far, including one photojournalist who was literally executed by Russian troops. (That still needs to be treated as a war crime, by the way.)
This returns us to a question that has been swirling around since nearly the beginning of the Russian invasion. How crazy are the people in the Kremlin right now? I don’t think we can simply limit that question to Vladimir Putin these days because it’s questionable how much control of the country he retains or what his physical and mental health are like at this point.
Sergey Lavrov talks about using nukes frequently enough, but that’s pretty much part of his job description. He’s there to be the aggressive, threatening voice of the regime. It’s also highly unlikely that he would ever be in the line of succession to take over the country if Putin were to conveniently disappear. He’s also probably not as serious about it as he tries to pretend.
Perhaps it really would be for the best (for the entire world) if Putin were to expire or be pushed out of power for some reason. If the decision to deploy nuclear weapons is being left in the hands of a single person, someone in allegedly failing health and decreasing mental stability who might feel that he doesn’t have much to lose is probably the worst choice possible. I doubt that many Russians are looking forward to the rain of nuclear missiles that would obliterate most of Russia’s cities in response to a Russian first strike. And it’s unlikely that many of them see the conquest of Ukraine as being more important than the survival of their country.
The other question that the United States and the rest of the western world need to be prepared to answer is whether or not such a nuclear response would actually come. What if Russia does detonate a nuke, but it’s inside of (or over) Ukraine? That would still not represent an attack on a NATO ally and up until now, everyone has been agreeing that there won’t be a military response unless Putin expands the war beyond Ukraine’s borders. But wouldn’t a nuclear weapon be a bridge too far?