With Russian troops frozen across Ukraine, the Russian military has chosen to level Ukrainian cities in an attempt to bomb them into submission. No distinction between military and civilian targets has been made, and there is evidence of Russia funneling evacuees into corridors to gun down with mortar fire or even mines.
Yet such devastating actions have only strengthened Ukrainian resolve and the world’s materiel commitment to defending against Russia. To achieve a breakthrough, if Russian troops remain locked in place, Putin may feel the need to escalate in an unthinkable manner; weapons of mass destruction. The Kremlin has recently confirmed the use of thermobaric weapons, a fact known to the world since the onset of the war. Yet new Russian claims of Ukrainian chemical weapon stockpiles, echoing their earlier claims of nuclear weapon stockpiles, raise the dangerous question of Russia’s own capabilities. Sources from the FSB have expressed concern regarding these accusations, claiming that whenever Kremlin accuses a nation of stockpiling WMDs, it reflects Putin’s own consideration of deploying them.
As long as NATO is not involved in the war, Putin could reasonably escalate against Ukraine using WMDs. The possibility of an immediate NATO intervention is possible, and Russia would see the little support it has abroad vanish. But in Putin’s draconian, 20th-century mind, such an escalation could go unpunished. This is all part of Russia’s nuclear policy, ‘escalate to de-escalate. Putin places his bets on fear gripping Western nations by launching an incredibly horrific attack against Ukraine using chemical or nuclear weapons, forcing them to halt or withdraw their support.
Of course, such an escalation, whether nuclear or chemical, would illicit a massive, global response. And despite NATO’s reluctance to escalate, ignoring the demands of a majority of its citizens, a nuclear attack of any yield on a major city like Kyiv, Kharkiv, or Mariupol would call for an immediate no-fly zone, regardless of consequence. As Russia continues to escalate, it approaches the discreet ‘red-line’ that the U.S. has drawn regarding Russian escalation. Where precisely that line lies is known only to NATO’s leadership. Still, when it is crossed, nothing short of mutually assured destruction will save Russia’s army from a conventional war with NATO’s response force.
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