The Ukraine Crisis: Current Developments (and the risks of nuclear war)–January 29, 2022


For an update on the current situation in the Ukraine Crisis, see,

1) Shane Harris, John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima, “U.S. and allies debate the intelligence on how quickly Putin will order an invasion of Ukraine — or whether he will at all; As the United States and Britain sound the alarm, the Ukrainian president appears unconvinced; meanwhile, France and Germany hedge,” Washington Post, January 29, 2022 (10:26 a.m. EST);

2) Michael R. Gordon, Courtney McBride and James Marson, “Russia Presses Buildup Near Ukraine as Diplomatic Prospects Narrow; Kremlin’s options range from full-scale attack and seizure of territory to political coercion aimed at undermining government in Kyiv,” Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2022 (9:00 am ET).

Michael R. Gordon, for many years the military correspondent of the New York Times, is now writing for the Wall street Journal. He is providing perhaps the best information on military deployments and capabilities in and near Ukraine, as seen through the eyes of a sophisticated and well-informed military historian. The teams at the New York Times and the Washington Post also include some of their best journalists.

The New York Times leads today with a detailed analysis of the U.S. sanctions against Russia being prepared and under consideration.


Michael Crowley and Edward Wong, “U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Russia Could Take a Wide Toll; The boldest measures that President Biden is threatening to deter an invasion of Ukraine could roil the entire Russian economy — but also those of other nations,” New York Times, January 29, 2022.

What is most striking about discussions about sanctions is the way officials and analysts, particularly in Europe, talk about what the negative effects of really serious sanctions would be on their economies or the international financial system, as if the alternative were a simple continuation of the status quo.

The real comparison they should be making is between the effects of the sanctions, if they are adopted, and the effects on their economies of a major ground war in Europe with the attendant risks of escalation to nuclear war, if they are not.

A nuclear war could have a really negative impact on their economies.

Moreover, everyone should bear in mind that once a war begins, all the assumptions of the “rational actor” paradigm no longer hold, if they ever did even to a limited extent. The rational calculation of costs and benefits would be out the window, as would be the ability of any leader, even Putin, to control the course of events. We should recall the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and how dicey that was.

We should also recall how, in the run-up to World War I, the mobilization of Russian military units set in motion forces that could not be controlled, leading to the outbreak of hostilities in August, 1914.

Roger Cohen, the Paris bureau chief at the New York Times, writes an insightful article on Emmanuel Macron and his attempts to deal directly with Vladimir Putin and talk about the need for a new European Security Order, as he prepares to run for re-election as President in April. With 130,000 Russian troops at or mear the Ukrainian border, Cohen observes, Macron’s timing is hardly propitious.


Roger Cohen, “Emmanuel Macron Walks a Fine Line on Ukraine: The French president, determined to engage with Russia, wants to shape a new European security order from crisis — and win the April election, ” New York Times, April 29, 2022.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is sending military forces and equipment to NATO allies in Eastern Europe, will talk to Putin on Monday.


Roland Oliphant and Edward Malnick, “Britain ramps up firepower to deter Russian invasion; Boris Johnson, due to hold crisis talks with Vladimir Putin on Monday, orders Armed Forces to ‘prepare to deploy across Europe,'” The Telegraph, January 29, 2022 (10:30 p.m.).

Given the way Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is playing down the threat of a Russian invasion, while criticizing Joe Biden for hyping the possibility, one must necessarily ask if Putin and the threat of an invasion have gotten to Zelensky’s nerves. Ukrainian military and intelligence officials reportedly take the Russian threat very seriously.

Zelensky was a TV comedian playing the president before he was elected president. Will he be tough like Petro Poroshenko was in 2014, or is there some risk that he might cave in to Putin?

The biggest risk would be that Zelensky might give in to some of Putin’s demands for “autonomy” in Eastern Ukraine– “autonomy” secured at the end of the barrel of a gun, without Russia complying with provisions of the Minsk II Accords of 2015 calling for Russia to withdraw its forces from the Eastern Ukraine and to restore control of the border in the Donbas to Ukraine.

Three critical questions have received little attention:

1) First, if Russia invades Ukraine and a war ensues, how will the war be stopped?

2) Second, if Russia invades Ukraine, how will the risks of accidental or intentional escalation be moderated? If such escalation occurs, in the fog of war, how will the risks of further escalation to nuclear war be controlled? Could the Security Council play a useful role, now, by debating a draft resolution which takes those risks into account?

Assuming Russia would veto any such resolution, should members be preparing, now, to take that Resolution to the General Assembly and bring it to a vote?

3) The third question is whether countries should think, now, about forming a “great coalition” to bring military force and other power to bear in forcing Russian troops out of Ukraine. This is precisely what members of the United Nations did in 1990, when they joined a military coalition to use force, in exercise of the right of collective self-defense, and repelled Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces following their invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

Kuwait was not a member if NATO. Yet the countries of the world felt it was important to defend the territorial integrity of Kuwait and the bedrock prohibition against the international use of force enshrined in article 2 (4) of the Charter.

Repelling aggression by a nuclear power which is a Permanent Member of the Security Council would represent an unprecedented challenge. How would that work out?

The Trenchant Observer