Will Vladimir Putin use nuclear weapons to further his cause in the Ukraine? Given their potentiality for mass destruction, this question seems unthinkable. There was a time when I would unhesitatingly answer no, but now I am not too sure. Let’s see.
It is clear that Putin tragically underestimated the tenacity, determination, nationalism, and strong sense of patriotism of the Ukrainian people. Like all dictators and so-called strongmen before him, he thought that he could win a war with them with little effort. He no doubt thought that the war would be over in quick time and he would go on to impose his will on them and then go on to threaten their neighbours.
This was not to be.
Instead, he has found himself in a quagmire. Not only did he fail to reckon with the determination of the Ukrainians to defend their country at whatever cost, but he failed to understand the resolve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries, and most of the world in general, in supporting Ukraine against him. Although he should have expected it, I do not believe Putin thought that the world would so uniformly oppose his reckless adventure in Ukraine. The global condemnation of his actions might have come as a surprise, if not shock, to him.
Now he stands as a pariah on the world stage. He and his family along with his oligarchic buddies are being battered by sanctions. His country, over which he has exercised an iron grip, is reeling from sanctions and is now being seen as a pariah State itself.
It is clear that things are not well in Russia economically. The ruble is slowly being reduced to rubble. The lives of ordinary Russians, already tough, will certainly get worse as the economic sanctions begin to bite.
With the robust support of the Ukrainians, it is now becoming clear that Putin will not meet his objectives there. The war is not going well for him and he is increasingly being pushed into a corner, albeit a corner of his own making. We know what cornered rats do. They become more desperate and will tear at everything to find a way out. If Putin becomes more desperate, the nuclear option beckons.
After what he has done in the Ukraine, Putin has very few friends in the world. The fringe support that he receives from like-minded dictators is not sufficient to turn the tide in his favour. There is no indication that the people of these dictator-governed countries will want to support Russia in this dastardly war.
With no real friends in the world and with possible serious disaffection at home as sanctions become more oppressive, Putin’s desperation meter may rise to dangerous levels.
He has not yet been officially charged with war crimes or genocide, but such charges are in the offing based on what he is being accused of by the Ukrainians.
However, when the war ends, Putin knows that he can never return to life as it was before he crossed into Ukraine. He is shutting himself in a box while isolating his country from the world.
Short of being taken out, or dying of natural causes — such as a sudden heart attack — he will not surrender himself to the tragic fate that he knows awaits him. He can use the fate of the war criminals in the Bosnian genocide — such as Slobodan Milosevic — as a guide.
Any way you look at it, Putin is toast. The Russian people must decide whether they want to be toasted by and/or with him. There is no easy way out for him. He is a man running out of options of which there are not many.
There is a kind of otherness that characterises the level at which world leaders of the disposition of a Putin operates. It is a kind of extreme eccentricty — a detachment from reality which cannot be easily understood by the normal mind. It is the kind of eccentricity in which the person who exhibits it finds himself tethered to the tyranny of an ideology in which he believes his cause is just, even if everyone else knows he is wrong. This mindset can also be observed in China, a country ruled by another so-called strongman, where a viral pandemic is being fought with brute force.
As the ideology to which he is tethered tightens, the strongman listens to no other voice but his own. And the only thing he hears from his own voice is to persist with the cause, no matter the level of human suffering and destruction. Normal people who look on cannot understand this kind of behaviour and why the person cannot have some “conscience” about his actions.
But this type of eccentricity in service to a tyrannous ideology knows no empathy. It is characterised by a radical disregard for human suffering. Most of humanity does not operate in this realm, and this may explain why the world has persisted for so long
Every so often a megalomanic of the ilk of a Putin rises to power, but he should not have. From Adolph Hitler in Germany to Joseph Stalin in Russia to Mao Zedong in China, the world has witnessed the outcomes of such dispositions in dictators. If Donald Trump had triumphed in his alleged attempted coup against the United States Constitution, America would have witnessed the worst outcome of a tyrannous ideology.
Only Putin, in the narrow confines of his mind, knows whether he will resort to nuclear weapons. If my assessment of him is correct, an appeal to conscience on behalf of humanity will not deter him. Such an appeal would be viewed as a bargaining chip for Putin.
As we know, desperate people are likely to do dangerous things. Consider what a man without options who faces a future life of misery will do with the kind of nuclear arsenal that Putin has at his fingertips. As he drifts further into his eccentric world, it will be left to those closest to him, who are not similary tethered, to stop him. But will they?
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.