The world is entering a moment of maximum danger – and maximum opportunity – in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, now in its seventh month.
It was a time of maximum danger because Putin had so badly failed to pursue his delusional obsession – which led him to launch a major invasion of Ukraine on 24 February – so that he able to reconstruct some modern notions of the Russian empire with Kyiv as its center and as his legacy.
As the Ukrainian courage and tenacity turns his arrogance into humiliation, the danger increases that he may turn to weapons of mass destruction, including the use of weapons of mass destruction. tactical nuclear weapons, to coerce Ukraine and embarrass allies at a time when Putin’s influence is eroding and he’s running out of options.
This is the moment of maximum opportunity for world leaders at this week’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, the first since Putin launched his war. This is an opportunity for US President Joe Biden, along with his European and Asian allies, to openly discuss the dangers Putin’s war poses to any nation concerned with national sovereignty. countries, to condemn Putin’s undeniable atrocities and keep the rest of the fencers around the world from condemning Putin and supporting sanctions against him.
It is frustrating that the United Nations, instead of focusing on the best way to stop Russia’s tyranny now and before winter wages, has struggled with the technicalities of whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be allowed to speak via video link about the most important meeting of world leaders. The good news is that the United Nations General Assembly members voted 101 to 7, with 19 abstentions, to facilitate the Ukrainians.
Russia, a member of the United Nations Security Council, did everything to block the speech. Unsurprisingly, when Zelenskyy addressed the Security Council in April, he told the group they should act for peace immediately or “disband themselves”.
“We are dealing with a situation that turns a veto in the United Nations Security Council into a right to kill.” he warned. Zelenskyy could not have been more prophetic when he said that if the UN does not stop Putin, then for the nations of the future, international law will not determine the future but the law of the jungle.
There has been some speculation that the likelihood that Putin will use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine – or order some other escalation involving chemical or biological agents – has increased proportionally. response to the growing military defeats of Russian autocrats on the ground.
Scenes from this week’s Ukraine of Russian soldiers – people who put their rifles aside, fled the battlefield on bicycles, and ditched their uniforms to disguise themselves as locals – all part of the defeat
The spectacular offensive of Putin’s army in the south and east of Ukraine, where the Ukrainian army has recaptured at least 2,320 square miles of the territory, gave new life talk that Putin may have no way out of a losing war except through a self-defeating Hail Mary: nuclear weapons.
For a leader whose leadership claims are centered around personal masculinity and political invulnerability, a growing awareness of military incompetence and personal weakness would jeopardize his continued rule.
That appears to be prompting a rethink between some of his allies and a larger group of countries – India among them – as Putin learned at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. this week in Samarkand. Modi expressed his concern about war by told Putin openly that “the present day is not the age of war, and I spoke to you on the phone about this.”
Putin’s meeting this week in Samarkand with Chinese President Xi Jinping also left Putin with little relief. Indeed, Putin may have begun to see the limits of what the two men have called “unlimited” relationship in a statement just before the Beijing Olympics and before Putin launched his war. “We understand your questions and concerns” about the war, Putin told Xi this week.
Individual survival remains a top priority for autocrats. For Putin, that must be the top concern right now. What’s less obvious is what warrants it. One possibility is the use of weapons of mass destruction and especially tactical nuclear weapons.
Although the risk to Putin is great, the world must be ready for this unexpected case. The best way to do that is to hit first, stop him and be proactive rather than react because the whole world knows his plot.
“I’m scared [Putin’s Russia] Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy secretary-general of NATO, told BBC this week.
What worries her is something that is becoming increasingly important in the Kremlin’s strategy: tactical nuclear weapons weighing a few kilotons or less – some one-tenth the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Such weapons were not designed to reach Washington or Berlin but to coerce or, as Gottemoeller put it, “make the Ukrainians, in their terror, surrender.”
In an Atlantic Council”Memorandum to the President“this week, Matthew Kroenig tries to answer the question ‘how to stop Russia’s nuclear use in Ukraine’ – and respond if containment fails. “
“Such nuclear use,” wrote Kroenig, “could advance the Kremlin’s military goals, undermine U.S. interests globally, and trigger an unprecedented humanitarian disaster. since 1945. To avert such a potential disaster, the United States should issue vague, overt threats of serious consequences for any use of nuclear weapons. Russia and stands ready to respond to conventional military attacks against Russian forces if containment fails.”
It is essential for the United States to convey this message privately at senior levels and to accompany the dispatch of relevant conventional forces into the region in a way that emphasizes the seriousness of the United States.
As world leaders gather at UNGA, it is expected that they will use the opportunity presented to them to listen to Zelenskyy fully.
Ukraine’s viability as an independent, sovereign and democratic state has far-reaching implications for the international community represented by the UN.
There are terrible dangers in the coming weeks. However, Putin’s battlefield failures and the growing erosion of his international standing provide an opportunity to do the right thing: accelerate and accelerate all efforts to ensure Putin’s defeat and secure Ukrainian defender.
If not now, then when?
– Frederick Kempe is the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council.