Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday March 4, 2022
Could Putin Go Nuclear?
That escalated quickly.
Five days ago, it looked like the west’s response to Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression would be tepid. Its first round of sanctions was replete with loopholes large enough to jam gas pipelines through. But Ukraine’s resolve has proven contagious. The Ukrainians’ willingness to die in defense of their national sovereignty and their capacity to inflict casualties on Russia have outstripped the expectations of their friends and enemies alike. This demonstration seems to have stiffened spines in Berlin and Brussels. Over the weekend, Europe and the U.S. declared something close to financial war on the Russian state. The western powers announced they were freezing all Russian central bank assets held in the E.U., U.S., Canada, and Britain and evicting Russian banks from the international payments system known as SWIFT. As a result, the Russian people saw the value of their savings collapse over night.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and E.U. continued funneling weapons to Ukrainian forces.
When Putin commenced his invasion last week, he warned that any nation that “tries to stand in our way” or “create threats for our country and our people … must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.” Just in case his implication was not clear, Putin reminded his adversaries that “Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states.”
On Sunday, following the West’s actions against Russia’s central bank, Putin announced he was putting his nation’s nuclear forces on “special combat readiness” in response to “illegal sanctions” and “aggressive statements” from NATO countries.
The precise meaning of Putin’s order is unclear. Both the U.S. and Russia keep nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles on high alert at all times. According to the theories of deterrence that structured Cold War policy, these weapons of mass death must be forever locked and loaded lest the other side seize an opportunity to launch a first strike so overwhelming it preempts retaliation.
To the extent that Putin’s statement has substance, it would presumably mean removing Russian bombers from their hangars and loading them with nuclear weapons and/or sending nuclear submarines out to sea. Such actions would almost certainly appear on the proverbial radar of the U.S. security state, which keeps a watchful eye on Russian nuclear facilities. The Pentagon said Monday that it had not seen “any specific muscle movements” from Russia’s nuclear forces, and America’s nuclear “alert level” is therefore unchanged. (NYMagazine)