Ukraine War, October 17, 2022: NATO fails to respond to Putin’s nuclear threats and latest acts of escalation, with predictable consequences

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1) Isabelle Khurshudyan, Annabelle Timsit and Kostiantyn Khudov, “Drones hit Kyiv as Russia aims to destroy Ukraine power grid before winter,” Washington Post, October 17, 2022 (updated at 12:55 p.m. EDT);


As we feared might occur, President Joe Biden and NATO have caved in to Putin’s nuclear threats and latest acts of escalation.

Beyond the nuclear threats, the “Partial Mobilization” on September 21, and the massive missile attacks on targets all across Ukraine beginning on October 10, Vladimir Putin has now adopted a strategy based on the systematic commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of genocide by targeting civilian infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukraine.

So far, Biden and NATO appear to have caved in to Putin’s nuclear threats. Putin has been emboldened by the success of these threats, which so far have achieved the objective of scaring Biden so that he doesn’t authorize the provision to Ukraine of long-range artillery rockets (ATACMS), fighter jets, or battle tanks and armored personnel carriers (from Germany).

Flush with the success of his nuclear threats, Putin has escalated even more with very significant military steps. In essence, he has abandoned any pretext (always thin) of aiming only at military targets in Ukraine.

Now he quite openly espouses a strategy aimed at destroying civilian infrastructure, and in particular the electrical grid, which is a strategy built on the commission of war crimes on a broad scale.

So far, Biden and NATO have not reacted in any significant way. Under the cover of Putin’s nuclear threats, the Russians remain free to destroy Ukrainians and Ukrainian critical infrastructure, like shooting fish in a barrel.

If Putin’s escalation is allowed to proceed unopposed, Russia may well succeed in destroying so much critical infrastructure that Ukraine will not be able to convert its gains on the ground in Kharkiv province, in the Dunbas, and in the region of Kherson into victory.

It is late but even at this late date the U.S. and NATO need to react to Putin’s nuclear threats and acts of escalation.

NATO should now take the following steps, on an urgent basis:

1) Immediately supply Ukraine with the long-range artillery rockets (ATACMS) for the HIMARS artillery pieces.

2) Announce publicly that if Putin continues his attacks on civilian infrastructure and other civilian targets in Ukraine, the U.S. will release its restrictions on the use of U.S.-supplied weapons to hit targets in Russia, maintaining only the restriction that they be used in compliance with the inherent right of self-defense under international law and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

3) The U.S. and the EU should adopt “secondary sanctions” against transactions prohibited by the current economic sanctions against Russia, with the goal of further crippling the Russian economy.

4) The U.S. and the EU should expand the list of exports and transactions covered by sanctions against Russia, and actively enforce the secondary sanctions against countries which violate them.

Joe Biden and NATO have always done “too little, too late” in adopting sanctions and seeking to deter Putin from committing further acts of barbarism.

If Biden and NATO continue down the path of caving in to Putin’s nuclear threats and not responding to his acts of escalation, recent Ukrainian gains on the battlefield may be wiped out by the total destruction of Ukraine’s electrical grid and other critical civilian infrastructure such as dams, or even nuclear power plants.

The war has reached a new stage.

If NATO does not respond to counter Putin’s nuclear threats and acts of escalation, while there is still time, the war and much more could be lost in the next round of escalation by an emboldened Putin–which could include the detonation of a nuclear device.

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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.