Staunton, December 11, 2015 Vladimir Putin’s increasingly frequent statements that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons in local conflicts not only contradicts the official military doctrine he signed a year ago and throws the world back to where it was at the time of the Cuban missile crisis but shows him to be either a fanatic or an adventurist, Andrei Piontkovsky says.
“When the leader of a nuclear power begins to threaten the use of nuclear weapons for the achievement of some local geopolitical goals, there are only two possible explanations for such behavior,” he says. Either he is “a fanatic” really prepared to do so or “an adventurist player” counting on others to give in.
Putin is almost certainly the second, “a blackmailer [who] threatens to use nuclear weapons calculating that the other side, even if it has a nuclear arsenal no smaller than his, will be horrified by the prospect of the deaths of millions and will back down and pay him the political price he demands.”
“In either case,” the Russian commentator says, “this is absolutely irresponsible behavior which shows the deviant nature of the person involved. Such an individual, one step away from the nuclear button is very dangerous both for his own country and for all of humanity.” But for Putin, suggestions about possible use of nuclear weapons are now “an obligatory daily ritual.”
(Putin’s remarks about nuclear weapons are an effort to expand to the Middle East what Piontkovsky has earlier called “’the Narva paradox,’ the ability of Putin by one step to confront the West with an unthinkable choice – a humiliating capitulation and exist from world history or nuclear war with someone in another reality.”
Many had assumed that when Putin signed the new Russian military doctrine which left unchanged the earlier version’s opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in local conflicts that there was no risk that he would move in a different direction. But that assumption has proven to be wrong.
Throughout the last year, Piontkovsky points out, Putin and his supporters have been pushing what has come to be called “the Patrushev doctrine” and that has made “open nuclear blackmail…one of the central instruments of Russian foreign policy,” a policy that increasingly appears to have been suggested by “the success of Kim Jong-un.”
(The reason this idea is called the Patrushev doctrine, of course, is that on October 14, 2014, Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, published an article in Izvestiya in which he suggested Russia could use nuclear weapons in regional or local conflicts.)
Patrushev’s proposal generated a sharp response by Russian experts and commentators who pointed out that such a departure from what they viewed as settled Moscow policy would return the world to the dangers not of the last period of the cold war but rather to the times of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Moreover, they said, “this would become the beginning of a new nuclear arms race and would make [Russia] in the eyes of the world a potential aggressor, an inspirer of wars and a nuclear blackmailer. The political consequences of such a step could be dramatic” not only for the world but for Russia itself.
Unfortunately, Piontkovsky says, it is clear that Putin has not accepted that argument despite his signing of a document which suggested he did; and consequently, the Kremlin leader and his supporters have put the world on a vastly more dangerous course than anyone could have imagined only a year or two ago.