Upping the nuclear ante

Fossil fuels

Northeast

Emily Mullin, “Pittsburgh’s air quality is improving but still among worst in country,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 21, 2022, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2022/04/21/pittsburgh-air-quality-2020-american-lung-association-report-particle-pollution-ozone/stories/202204210075


Twitter

Cara Lombardo and Will Feuer, “Elon Musk Says He Has Commitments for $46.5 Billion in Financing for Twitter Deal,” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-says-he-has-commitments-for-46-5-billion-in-financing-for-twitter-deal-11650549097


John Fetterman

Daniel Strauss, “Is Conor Lamb Collapsing Against John Fetterman in Pennsylvania?” New Republic, April 21, 2022, https://newrepublic.com/article/166164/conor-lamb-collapsing-john-fetterman-pennsylvania


Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s missile test[16] is a blatant effort to further[17] rattle the nuclear sabre.[18]

In fact, the [the nuclear-capable Sarmat] missile, if deployed, would add only marginally to Russia’s capabilities. But the launch was about timing and symbolism: It came amid the recent public warnings, including by Mr. Burns, that there was a small but growing chance that Mr. Putin might turn to chemical weapons attacks, or even a demonstration nuclear detonation.[19]

So, on the one hand, we have Putin threatening the use of nuclear weapons if Russia feels its existence is threatened,[20] which is also his rationale for invading Ukraine in the first place.[21] And we have that while he has invaded Ukraine, he has not yet used nuclear weapons.

We also have a history in which Ronald Reagan intentionally appeared to be crazy to gain negotiating leverage with the Soviet Union,[22] a history Putin is surely aware of. But even if, as seems reasonable to believe, Putin is applying that precedent here, we cannot infer, at least from this, one way or another whether Putin will, in the end, use nuclear weapons. We can only say what the Russians themselves say: They have not ruled this out.[23]

Speaking at the Georgia Institute of Technology last week, Mr. [William J.] Burns, [Central Intelligence Agency director and] a former American ambassador to Moscow, said Mr. [Vladimir] Putin was “an apostle of payback” who believes the West “took advantage of Russia’s moment of historical weakness in the 1990s.” He added that Mr. Putin’s small circle of advisers would hesitate to “question his judgment or his stubborn, almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia’s sphere of influence.”[24]

We can argue about what, precisely, that means. But if we’re going to call a belief “almost mystical,” surely it means more than this:

That means getting the West to back away from Russia’s borders. And it means stopping NATO’s expansion, which may soon spread to Finland and Sweden, where a senior American defense official was visiting this week to discuss possible accession to the Western alliance.[25]

Rather, it much more likely means this (figure 1):

Fig. 1. Historic Russian empire, from the New York Times, possibly March 6, 2014, fair use.[26]

Certainly, such a “historic mission”[27] must entail more than the Donbas,[28] and, given the underwhelming performance of Russian conventional forces to date,[29] he must turn to unconventional means, including the nuclear.[30]

Bojan Pancevski and Georgi Kantchev, “Russia Warns It Could Station Nuclear Forces in Europe if Finland, Sweden Join NATO,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-warns-it-could-station-nuclear-forces-in-europe-if-finland-sweden-join-nato-11649958396

Dan Lamothe et al., “Russia says flagship missile cruiser has sunk after explosion off coast of Ukraine,” Washington Post, April 14, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/14/ukraine-russian-missile-cruiser-moskva-warship/

David E. Sanger, Helene Cooper, and Anton Troianovski, “Girding for New Battle, Russia Warns U.S. on Advanced Weapons for Ukraine,” New York Times, April 15, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/15/world/europe/ukraine-russia-us-weapons-warning.html

Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum, “U.S., allies plan for long-term isolation of Russia,” Washington Post, April 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/04/16/us-nato-isolate-russia/

Juri Rescheto, “Who’s next? Lithuanians prepare for potential Russian aggression,” Deutschewelle, April 16, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/whos-next-lithuanians-prepare-for-potential-russian-aggression/a-61496290

Agence France-Presse, “Russian ultimatum to Ukraine forces in Mariupol expires,” Radio Television Luxembourg, April 17, 2022, https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1899789.html

Catherine Lucey, “Biden’s Claim of Russian Genocide in Ukraine Adds to Pressure Campaign,” Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-claim-of-russian-genocide-in-ukraine-adds-to-pressure-campaign-11650187802

Shayan Sardarizadeh and Leo Sands, “Ukraine war: Dramatic images appear to show sinking Russian warship Moskva,” British Broadcasting Corporation, April 18, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61141118

Jeanne Whalen, “Russian Orthodox leader backs war in Ukraine, divides faith,” Washington Post, April 18, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/18/russian-orthodox-church-ukraine-war/

Lorenzo Tondo, Luke Harding, and Isobel Koshiw, “Russia takes Donbas town but Ukrainian frontline ‘still holding,’” Guardian, April 19, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/19/ukraine-war-battle-for-donbas-has-begun-russia-launches-offensive

Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation

Bloomberg, “Russia Test-Fires Nuclear-Capable ICBM in Warning to U.S. Allies,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/russia-stages-test-of-nuclear-missile-in-warning-to-u-s-allies

David E. Sanger, “Russia’s Missile Test Fuels U.S. Fears of an Isolated Putin,” New York Times, April 20, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/20/us/politics/russia-putin-missile-test.html


  1. [16]Bloomberg, “Russia Test-Fires Nuclear-Capable ICBM in Warning to U.S. Allies,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/russia-stages-test-of-nuclear-missile-in-warning-to-u-s-allies
  2. [17]David E. Sanger, “Russia’s Missile Test Fuels U.S. Fears of an Isolated Putin,” New York Times, April 20, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/20/us/politics/russia-putin-missile-test.html
  3. [18]Daniel Boffey, “Russia reasserts right to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Guardian, March 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/26/russia-reasserts-right-to-use-nuclear-weapons-in-ukraine-putin; Yuras Karmanau, “Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert, escalating tensions,” Associated Press, February 27, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-business-europe-moscow-2e4e1cf784f22b6afbe5a2f936725550; Luke McGee and Claire Calzonetti, “Putin spokesman refuses to rule out use of nuclear weapons if Russia faced an ‘existential threat,’” CNN, March 22, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/22/europe/amanpour-peskov-interview-ukraine-intl/index.html; Bojan Pancevski and Georgi Kantchev, “Russia Warns It Could Station Nuclear Forces in Europe if Finland, Sweden Join NATO,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-warns-it-could-station-nuclear-forces-in-europe-if-finland-sweden-join-nato-11649958396; Jordan Michael Smith, “Would Putin Really Go Nuclear? Well …,” New Republic, March 7, 2022, https://newrepublic.com/article/165634/putin-nuclear-weapons-ukraine-us-response; Adam Taylor, “War in Ukraine enters a new phase, even more unpredictable and dangerous than the last,” Washington Post, March 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/03/01/ukraine-putin-nuclear-sanctions/; Adam Taylor and William Neff, “Why the world is so worried about Russia’s ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons,” Washington Post, March 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/29/why-world-is-so-worried-about-russias-tactical-nuclear-weapons/; Robin Wright, “What Does Putin’s Nuclear Sabre Rattling Mean?” New Yorker, March 1, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/what-does-putins-nuclear-sabre-rattling-mean
  4. [19]David E. Sanger, “Russia’s Missile Test Fuels U.S. Fears of an Isolated Putin,” New York Times, April 20, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/20/us/politics/russia-putin-missile-test.html
  5. [20]Luke McGee and Claire Calzonetti, “Putin spokesman refuses to rule out use of nuclear weapons if Russia faced an ‘existential threat,’” CNN, March 22, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/22/europe/amanpour-peskov-interview-ukraine-intl/index.html
  6. [21]Anne Applebaum, “The U.S. Is Naive About Russia. Ukraine Can’t Afford to Be,” Atlantic, January 3, 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/01/ukraine-russia-kyiv-putin-bluff/621145/; Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s ‘Nightmare’ Threat to Europe,” Puck News, December 6, 2021, https://puck.news/putins-nightmare-threat-to-europe/; Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  7. [22]Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (New York: PublicAffairs, 2000).
  8. [23]Luke McGee and Claire Calzonetti, “Putin spokesman refuses to rule out use of nuclear weapons if Russia faced an ‘existential threat,’” CNN, March 22, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/22/europe/amanpour-peskov-interview-ukraine-intl/index.html
  9. [24]David E. Sanger, “Russia’s Missile Test Fuels U.S. Fears of an Isolated Putin,” New York Times, April 20, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/20/us/politics/russia-putin-missile-test.html
  10. [25]David E. Sanger, “Russia’s Missile Test Fuels U.S. Fears of an Isolated Putin,” New York Times, April 20, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/20/us/politics/russia-putin-missile-test.html
  11. [26]New York Times, “Ukraine Crisis in Maps,” n.d., http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/02/27/world/europe/ukraine-divisions-crimea.html
  12. [27]Bloomberg, “Kremlin Insiders Alarmed Over Growing Toll of Putin’s War in Ukraine,” April 20, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-20/putin-s-war-in-ukraine-has-russian-elites-fearing-global-isolation
  13. [28]David Benfell, “Where does Vladimir Putin stop?” Not Housebroken, April 20, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/04/where-does-vladimir-putin-stop/
  14. [29]William Booth, Robyn Dixon, and David L. Stern, “Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate,” Washington Post, March 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/26/ukraine-russan-generals-dead/; Larisa Brown, Charlie Parker, and Richard Spencer, “Ukraine forces ‘counter-attack’ as Russia loses estimated 7,000 troops and 230 tanks,” Times, March 18, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ukraine-crisis-world-war-three-may-have-already-started-warns-zelensky-f5fs72vq5; Larisa Brown and Richard Spencer, “Struggling Russians ‘plant mines’ and dig in for a long war,” Times, March 21, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/retroville-mall-a-symbol-of-new-kyiv-is-destroyed-by-cruise-missile-0znsr9zc9; Robert Burns, “Russia’s failure to take down Kyiv was a defeat for the ages,” Associated Press, April 6, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-battle-for-kyiv-dc559574ce9f6683668fa221af2d5340; Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say,” New York Times, March 16, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/us/politics/russia-troop-deaths.html; Mark Galeotti, “How does Putin extract himself from this nightmare of his own making?” Times, March 5, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-does-putin-extract-himself-from-this-nightmare-of-his-own-making-v2ktvw08g; Michael R. Gordon and Alex Leary, “Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B,’” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-failing-to-achieve-early-victory-in-ukraine-is-seen-shifting-to-plan-b-11647824374; Jon Henley, “Russia laments ‘tragedy’ of troop deaths as Zelenskiy warns of atrocities in Borodyanka,” Guardian, April 8, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/08/russia-laments-tragedy-of-troop-deaths-as-zelenskiy-warns-of-atrocities-in-borodyanka; Jon Henley, Pjotr Sauer, and Shaun Walker, “‘Ukrainians are not naive’: Zelenskiy voices doubt on Russian military withdrawals,” Guardian, March 29, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/29/ukraine-russia-peace-talks-istanbul-war-kyiv; Richard Kemp, “The Russian army has run out of time,” Telegraph, March 22, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2022/03/22/russian-army-has-run-time/; Dan Lamothe, Alex Horton, and Karoun Demirjian, “Ukraine’s military adapts tactics after enduring Russia’s initial invasion,” Washington Post, March 5, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/05/ukraine-military-strategy/; Eric Levitz, “Putin’s War Looks Increasingly Insane,” New York, March 4, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/putins-war-looks-increasingly-insane.html; Matthew Luxmoore, “Russia Refocuses on Ukraine’s East After Month of Heavy Losses,” Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-refocuses-on-ukraines-east-after-month-of-heavy-losses-11648243627; James Mackenzie, Natalia Zinets, and Oleksandr Kozhukhar, “Russia getting bogged down in Ukraine, Western nations say,” Reuters, March 17, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/shells-hit-theatre-sheltering-ukraine-civilians-biden-calls-putin-war-criminal-2022-03-17/; Justin McCurry, Samantha Lock, and Luke Harding, “Russia targeting cities as strength of Ukraine’s resistance ‘continues to surprise’, UK says,” Guardian, March 6, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/biden-and-zelenskiy-discuss-more-aid-for-ukraine-as-russian-attacks-intensify; Ashley Parker et al., “‘No off-ramps’: U.S. and European officials don’t see a clear endgame in Ukraine,” Washington Post, March 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/10/ukraine-end-game/; Nebi Qena and Yuras Karmanau, “Russia shifts focus to try to grind Ukraine’s army in east,” Associated Press, March 28, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-kyiv-business-europe-7386a5893a3b43bad7e438cfe45468c2; David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin; Dan Sabbagh, “Is an outright Russian military victory in Ukraine possible?” Guardian, March 17, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/is-an-outright-russian-military-victory-in-ukraine-possible; Shayan Sardarizadeh and Leo Sands, “Ukraine war: Dramatic images appear to show sinking Russian warship Moskva,” British Broadcasting Corporation, April 18, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61141118; Liz Sly and Max Bearak, “Russia pulls back from battered Kyiv region in major shift of war to east,” Washington Post, April 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/02/russia-ukraine-east/; Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe, “Russia’s war for Ukraine could be headed toward stalemate,” Washington Post, March 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/20/russia-ukraine-military-offensive/; Lorenzo Tondo, Luke Harding, and Isobel Koshiw, “Russia takes Donbas town but Ukrainian frontline ‘still holding,’” Guardian, April 19, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/19/ukraine-war-battle-for-donbas-has-begun-russia-launches-offensive
  15. [30]David Benfell, “Nuclear survival,” Not Housebroken, April 21, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/13/nuclear-survival/

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