Putin playing “chicken” in Syria and the risk of escalation to nuclear war

Developing

See

“Putin’s power in the Kremlin and his dangerous nuclear and other threats,” The Trenchant Observer, March 26, 2015, reproduced below.

For a particularly incisive analysis of Vladimir Putin and the threat he represents, see

Eric Morse, “The deadly chaos behind Putyin’s mysterious acts,” The Globe and Mail, March 24 2015 (2:02 PM EDT).

Eric Morse is co-chair of security studies at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.

Vladimir Putin has become the most dangerous man in the world.

With direct control over Russia’s nuclear weapons, unchecked by the collective leadership represented by the Politburo in Soviet times, engaged in dismantling the arms control security architecture built up since the Cuban Mssile Crisis in October, 1962, brandishing nuclear threats in an increasingly open manner, Vladimir Putin appears to be subject to no internal controls within Russia.

Engaging in highly provocative military probes of NATO airspace, conducting large-scale military maneuvers on an almost continuing basis, and articulating a vision of military conquest and annexation with increasing boldness, Putin is acting in dangerous ways which could result in a incident leading to an escalating military conflict with NATO countries.

Especially significant has been his endorsement, little commented on in the Western media, of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.  That agreement, concluded on August 23, 1939, included not only a non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, but also the division andoccupation of Poland by the two countries and the takeover by the Soviet Union of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as parts of Finland and Romania.  A week later, on August 23, 1939, World War II began with the German inasion of Poland.

At the same time, the Boris Nemtsov assassination on February 27, 2015 has highlighted the ties between Vladimir Putin and the Chechen leader, Ramsan Kadyrov, who has at his command some 15,000-20,000 Chechen fighters, who constitute  a kind of personal militia operating outside of the regular security structures within Russia. Among the “volunteers” and regular forces which entered the eastern Ukraine from Russia were many such Chechen fighters.

The West is left with the urgent challenge of figuring out how to deal effectively with the most dangerous man on the planet, and then resolutely implementing the actions that are required.

In the Ukraine, appeasement has not worked.

Even the adoption in September of  tough economic sanctions did not stop Putin and his puppets from conquering more territory in the Donbas and threatening to take Mariupol in violation of the Minsk Protocol and ceasefire agreed on September 5. Now, following the recognition of those gains and the weakening of other provisions in the original Minsk Protocol in the Minsk II agreement signed on February 12, the credible threat of sending “lethal” arms to the Ukraine, and of further sanctions including exclusion from the SWIFT international payments system, may be helping to restrain Putin from moving at this time on Mariupol. That port city would give separatist-controlled territories in the Donbas an outlet to the sea, and its conquest would constitute an important advance toward establishing a land bridge to the Crimea.

But Putin can bide his time, waiting for disunity within the EU, NATO, or Europe and the U.S., before making his next strategic move.

Putin manifestly has been and will continue to be engaged in an all-out campaign to challenge and weaken NATO and the EU, executed relentlessly, 24/7, on many different fronts.

What seems clear is that he is steering Russia on a path that could lead to a nuclear confrontation with the West. Were that to occur, without any internal checks on Putin’s behavior, and in the absence of the confidence-building measures and arms control restraints which have existed until the very recent past, the situation could become even more dangerous than that which existed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

NATO and the West can no longer ignore the Russian threat to their security, responding lethargically while seeking refuge in illusions that with Putin anything resembling a return to “business as usual” is possible.

Rather, a long-term strategy of containment of Russia must be adopted, and quickly implemented. Only then (whether before or after Putin has passed from the scene) might there be any chance of Russia returning to the international community of civilized nations which seek to guarantee their security within the framework of the Unied Nations Charter and respect for international law.

That strategy of containment should eschew further appeasement but include renewed efforts to shore up the arms control measures achieved in the past, and joint efforts with Russia to secure new agreements that might reduce the risk of nuclear war, whether accidental or resulting from deliberate actions.

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See also the following article quoting a Canadian minister, Chris Alexander, who in addition to accurately pointing out that Putin is behaving like a terrorist, also alludes to the origins of the Ukraine crisis as lying in the responses of the U.S. and other countries to events in Syria. This is a key point, as readers who have followed Russian actions in Syria and reactions from the West are probably already aware.

David Pugliese (Postmedia News), “Putin is behaving like a terrorist’: Cabinet minister’s speech on Ukraine sparks social media battle with Russia,” National Post, March 25, 2015 (Updated 3:50 PM ET)

The Trenchant Observer