Staunton, November 24 – Loose talk by Vladimir Putin and others in Moscow about using nuclear weapons has not only united the West in ways that nothing else, including Russian aggression in Ukraine, could, but it is spreading fear among those near Putin about their future prospects in such a brave new world, according to Yuri Fedorov.
“The logic of the Kremlin” in making such remarks, the Russian analyst says, “is understandable: the West is weak and cowardly, it won’t stand up to a nuclear confrontation with Russia, it will retreat, and it will allow ‘little green men’ to seize let us say the Baltics, and then completely capitulate.”
And as a result of that capitulation, those around the Kremlin calculate, “the consequences of the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” as Putin has called the disintegration of the Soviet Union “will be corrected.”
That Putin might make that calculation is hardly surprising. Indeed, he is hardly “original,” but he clearly does not understand the full dimensions of the precedents on which he is acting, Fedorov says. In the late 1940s, Stalin unleashed the Berlin crisis, and the result was the formation of NATO.
In the early 1960s, Khrushchev decided to put Soviet missiles in Cuba, and the result of that was not only the Cuban missile crisis which reunified the West but his ouster. And in the 1970s, Brezhnev put intermediate-range missiles in eastern Europe, thinking to divide the West but that action had exactly the opposite effect.
Now, “by threatening NATO with nuclear war, Putin and his entourage are committing two mistakes, each of which may cost them dearly. As long as the standoff with the US and Europe was limited to the Ukrainian problem, both in Washington and in European capitals, people could and certainly would have liked to find a compromise and détente, taking into consideration at least in part Kremlin phobias and ambitions.”
“But Europe and the United States could not tolerate a nuclear threat,” Fedorov continues. “It is too dangerous,” especially when, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested, the person with his finger on the nuclear button is someone who appears to be living in “another reality.”
Putin’s second mistake, Fedorov argues, may be even more immediately consequential to him. He appears to have “ignored the instinct for self-preservation” within the Russian ruling class. The several thousand people in this group are not distinguished by moral qualities, but none of them could have entered it without a well-developed “sense of danger” and the ability to defend themselves against threats.
According to Fedorov, “hardly any of the current bureaucrats wants to exchange the well-being” he now enjoys “for the doubtful satisfaction of living in conditions of a mobilized economy, a harsh military-chekist culture, and a national-patriotic miasma.” Their plans have never included “balancing on the edge of war.”
What that means, of course, is that Putin’s fate may now be in the hands of the anything but sympathetic members of the entourage around him, a group whose members will want to save themselves even if they have to sacrifice him.