Et was to be expected that Putin would not stand idly by when his campaign of conquest in Ukraine turned into the disaster that had begun to appear in the past few days. Now, however, the Russian President is almost overturning himself when climbing up the escalation ladder. Even before the annexation of the occupied territories, even before the sham referendums there, he orders mobilization in Russia, which he has avoided up to now because it finally exposes his lie that the war is not a war. Now Putin is even threatening Ukraine and the states in the West that support it with a nuclear war if they dare to violate the “territorial integrity” of his country.
The cynicism of declaring the invaded state, whose territorial integrity Moscow had once promised to protect, to be the aggressor and invoking a principle that is otherwise trampled on with soldier’s boots at every opportunity, cannot be surpassed. But so far, the Russian people at large have believed Putin’s propaganda that fascist Ukrainians are just stupid cannon fodder for world-domination-seeking Americans and their willing helpers in Europe, who want to “dismember” and “oppress” Russia.
In Germany, the number of people who pray this horror story has shrunk noticeably in the course of the Ukraine war. But the fear that Putin, in his delusion, might resort not only to gas weapons but also to nuclear weapons is no doubt increasing again.
The unthinkable is no longer considered impossible
Even at government headquarters, the unthinkable is not considered entirely impossible: that a Putin who has come under pressure on the battlefield and on the home front could be tempted not only to stop the Ukrainians with a nuclear strike, for example in western Ukraine, but to attack them to force surrender.
He is still in deterrence mode: By renaming the loot sacred Russian soil and swearing to “defend” it with nuclear weapons if necessary, Moscow wants to keep the Ukrainians from advancing – and the West from it, Kyiv with weapons, money and to support training, on which the attacked are absolutely dependent.
The Kremlin couldn’t help noticing that Russia’s borders have so far been red lines for the West, too, which they were not allowed to cross for fear of an escalation of the war. It was made very clear to Kyiv that it could not attack the aggressor on its own territory, even if it made militarily sense to do so. Accordingly, the Ukrainians received neither fighter jets nor missiles capable of attacking targets deep in Russia’s rear.
Putin expects a long war
Western statesmen, including Chancellor Scholz, have now declared that they will recognize neither the so-called referendums nor the subsequent annexation of the occupied territories. Ukraine will continue to be fully supported (Robert Habeck). However, this will require more courage than before if the Ukrainians persist in wanting to liberate their entire country – and if the numerous oaths that the West has taken since the beginning of this war (inviolable borders, violence must not pay, no dictated peace and so on) should not turn out to be hollow and lazy.
In the struggle with Putin, the West will only remain a credible opponent if it actually continues to support Ukraine, at least to the extent it has to date. If he allows himself to be blackmailed by nuclear weapons from Putin, then he no longer needs to talk about the rule-based world order that needs to be defended, not even to all the other aggressors in the world. But not least in Germany, in view of Putin’s threat, the temptation could grow again to come to an arrangement with Moscow at the expense of the Ukrainians, to which the pompous and false title “Land against peace” (and gas!) could be attached.
Moscow also fears nuclear Armageddon
Such appeasement would be a betrayal of one’s own values and interests. But isn’t anything better than nuclear war? The only answer to that question is yes, and it is therefore vital for the anti-Putin alliance to keep a cool head. But one should also not think that nobody in Moscow fears nuclear Armageddon, in which Russia and its leadership would also burn up. Even Putin himself may not be sure that Ukrainians and their supporters will go into shock after his nuclear saber-rattling yet again. Otherwise he would not have ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists. Putin is now also expecting a long war.