It’s been 10 months since Russia started its “special military operation” in Ukraine, as Putin might describe it. Officially, the primary objective of this ongoing campaign is to de-Nazify Ukraine and rescue Russian-speaking people. Although we might contest this assertion, it is also true that Ukraine does support neo-Nazi outfits like the Azov Battalion and C-14. Nonetheless, we also can’t ignore Putin’s dream of restoring Soviet glory by annexing previously lost territories. Whatever the motivation, one thing that came as a shock is the length of time this conflict has lasted. Nobody expected this conflict to last 10 months and continue to this day. Given Russia’s edge over Ukraine in terms of comprehensive national power, this conflict was expected to end much sooner. No doubt, Ukraine caught Russian forces off balance. However, it was only possible because of overwhelming Western support.
Initially, the Russian blitzkrieg wrecked havoc on Ukrainian forces and captured a large part of Ukrainian territory. These areas include Lyman, Kherson, Mariupol, Svatove, etc. On February 21, 2022, President Putin announced two independent nations from Ukraine’s Donbas region. An executive order on the recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics was signed. But, since then, there has been a tectonic shift in the conflict. An aggressive Ukrainian counter-offensive supplemented by NATO weapon supplies coupled with stretched Russian supply lines has turned the momentum. After initial success, Russian forces were forced to withdraw from several key cities. In actuality, Russia ordered a withdrawal from Kherson, a crucial southern city and the sole regional capital it had managed to seize since it began operations, in November 2022. Ukraine’s forces, backed by Western financial, military, and diplomatic support, are reclaiming its lost territories.
Russia, bearing the brunt of this conflict, became the most sanctioned nation, surpassing Iran and North Korea. But every coin has two sides. On one hand, the west is rejoicing in Russian losses, but analysts predict the possibility of a nuclear war is escalating. A cornered Putin is what concerns the rationalist. No one can be more reckless than a dictator losing face domestically and on a battlefield, especially in Russia. Historically, Russian society has always been intolerant of weak leaders. Therefore, this is a do-or-die situation for Putin, who must win this conflict at all costs. The more the west pushes Russia against the wall, the harsher will be the blowback. Especially since it possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. In this article, we’re going to discuss the reasons that could ignite a nuclear war between Russia and Ukraine.
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GROUND 1: A SHIFT IN DOMESTIC SENTIMENTS
Russia has seen a wave of nationwide protests and mass mobilisation in response to the Ukraine conflict. According to the independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info, over 1300 protestors were arrested in a single day. Such a display of public resentment was unprecedented. As a matter of fact, Russia witnessed its greatest emigration since the October Revolution in 1917. But, following an aggressive Ukrainian counter-offensive and a rise in Russian casualties, there is a subtle change in public sentiments. With the help of niche US military hardware like HIMARS, Ukraine is conducting lethal strikes within Russia. The US intelligence community estimates that the Russian casualties could be around 80,000 to 100,000. Recently, a wave of public anger surfaced on Russian social media following Ukraine’s HIMARS strikes, which resulted in 63 Russian casualties. Following this strike, there was a feeling of fury and revenge among Russians.
Crackdown on Anti-War Protests in Russia.
Escalating Russian casualties, backed by US support, have resulted in a sense of victimhood among the Russian public. Many expressed anger at poor Russian military policies, and many expressed concerns about mounting western support for Ukraine. Analysts believe that Putin could tap on these sentiments in his favour to justify a tactical nuclear strike on Ukraine. Suddenly, Russian media have started discussing the possibility of a small-scale nuclear strike on Ukraine. Given the state’s control over Russian media, it can’t be discounted that Putin is trying to garner public support. Russian generals are claiming in media discussions that a tactical nuclear strike could end this conflict in Russia’s favour without violating any international treaties.
Ukraine Media Outlet on Rising Possibilities of a Nuclear Strike.
By floating the idea of quickly ending this conflict, Russia is appealing to the general public’s emotions about ending this menace. It is evident that there are budding public sentiments regarding the use of tactical nukes to end this conflict and put a hold on all the miseries caused by this conflict. Now, this should ring an alarm across the globe, as this could be the beginning of a nuclear war. Analysts believe if Putin thinks he has garnered considerable public support regarding the use of a tactical nuke, he won’t shy away from using it. God forbid if this turns into reality; the world would witness a new era of nuclear conflict. An era where tactical nukes would be seen as an easy alternative to ending a conflict. I believe that would be the end of the nuclear restraint the world has so far witnessed since World War 2.
GROUND 2: CROSSING THE CRIMEAN RED LINE
After annexing Crimea in 2014 and winning a controlled election, Russia declared it a part of Russian territory. Time and again, Russia has reiterated its will to defend Crimea like it would defend Moscow. That includes the use of nukes, as Russian nuclear doctrine states defending its sovereignty as the key purpose for having a nuclear arsenal. During the initial phase of this conflict, Ukraine was reluctant to target crime to avoid triggering the Russian nuclear threshold. But, as the war prolonged and western military aid started pouring in, we saw a more aggressive Ukraine. Ukraine has now started striking key Russian military sites in Crimea. In October 2022, Russia reported several explosions at military installations in Crimea, including a coordinated drone attack on a key Russian naval port at Sevastopol.
The Kerch Bridge Collapsed.
PM Zelensky, during his address after the 1st parliamentary summit of the international Crimea platform convened in Croatia, vowed to reclaim Crimea. Somehow, PM Zelensky seems confident of liberating Crimea, partly due to poor Russian performance and partly due to unwavering western support. On October 20, 2022, Ukraine targeted the Kerch Strait bridge, a critical artery connecting Russia with Crimea. This bridge plays a crucial role as a Russian supply line, connecting it with its troops fighting in southern Ukraine. President Putin declared the attack an act of terrorism inflicted by Ukraine on Russia. This attack has motivated Ukraine to conduct a more aggressive offensive in Crimea. But it is believed that Russian vulnerability in this part against mounting Ukrainian strikes could actually force Putin to opt for a tactical nuke. This would be done as a message to Ukraine and the west not to dare target Russian territories.
The world has already had enough of COVID, and what it needs now is global peace and tranquilly to mend the losses it has suffered. A nuclear war will further destabilise an already fragile global environment and economy. Instead of adding fuel to the fire, international institutions should play their role in alleviating the Ukraine-Russia conflict. India, as a major global power and a responsible nation, should also help in diffusing this conflict. India, as the current president, is going to chair the G20 summit this year. It is the only country that has excellent relations with the West and Russia. Hopefully, both Mr Biden and Mr Putin will attend the G20 summit in India. Hence, India should facilitate a joint meeting, including all stakeholders, to chalk out a solution to end this war. This would not only enhance India’s global stature but also bring global peace.