Home POLITICS A cornered Putin is capable of anything

A cornered Putin is capable of anything


When we think of nuclear bombs, we naturally think first of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and second of the kind of hypothetical nuclear Armageddon—goodbye New York, goodbye Moscow—that Hollywood has regularly featured for the past 60 years. . (By the way, the most underrated nuclear Armageddon movie of all time? miracle mile since 1988—has 91 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but he got really pissed Times review, and in those days, that was it).

But nuclear weapons, like people, come in many shapes and sizes. The bombs we dropped on Japan were about 15 kilotons, with a severe damage zone of about three-quarters of a mile in radiation in all directions from the point of impact. A three-kiloton weapon, for example, would have a severe hit zone of about one-fifth, or one-seventh of a mile. That’s about 250 yards, i.e. radiating in all directions, so the severe damage area would stretch 500 yards from point to point. If you are a golfer, think of a typical par five. If not, try this: A typical Manhattan block, from one numbered street to the next, is 264 feet; so 500 yards would cover six blocks: 41St. street to 47the Street, let’s say. And about a block and a half from avenue to avenue, which is approximately 1,000 feet.

What is my point here? That to a crazy like Vladimir Putin, a “small” nuclear device is probably entirely imaginable. If you fell into Rockefeller Center, you wouldn’t do anything to Times Square. What’s the problem, world? And can’t you hear Tucker Carlson saying all this already?

This is the scenario that terrifies me. Putin uses a tactical nuclear device that does not kill as many people (about 70,000 died immediately on Hiroshima, so a small bomb would mean considerably fewer deaths) but nevertheless breaks the nuclear taboo. The Biden administration feels like it has to respond in a dramatic way. This seems the morally right thing to do. But… war with Russia? About a country that isn’t even a NATO ally and that, let’s face it, most Americans don’t give a shit enough to enter into a protracted conflict on its behalf?

I am concerned that public opinion will not support an answer. Especially if Putin uses a small weapon whose destruction is “limited”. What Americans want more and more, and not without reason, is for the United States to take the lead in trying to broker a deal. A Survey data for progress conducted recently for the Quincy Institute found that 57 percent of those surveyed think the United States should pursue a diplomatic solution even if it means Ukraine needs to cede some territory. And between 47 and 41 percent, more people think that more US aid should be contingent on engaging in diplomacy.

I (more or less) agree. But not Putin. A guy who held a rally like the one he chaired in Red Square last week and made the kind of crazy speech that he made is not interested in diplomacy. He threatened to negotiate last Friday, but on terms that he knew were completely unacceptable to Ukraine. Hey, I stole $10,000 from you. How about we negotiate what fraction I return?

Robert Farley, who writes at 19fortyfive.com, published a column over the weekend describing how difficult the negotiations will be, if they ever happen. He points out that there are four different types of territory to negotiate: Russian-occupied but not annexed; occupied and annexed (as happened last Friday); annexed by Russia but occupied by Ukraine; annexed or occupied by Russia in 2014. Farley concludes: “Ukraine’s greater success in category 1 could make negotiations easier, while greater success in categories 2 and 4 will make negotiations more difficult.”

Can the Biden administration bring the parties to the table? The Kremlin is unlikely to respond favorably. Tell me if you think a boy who talks like that seems eager to negotiate: “We hear them say that the West stands for the rules-based order, but where do these rules come from? Those are delusions and simple cheating, double or triple standards intended for fools. Russia is a great country with a 1,000-year history, an entire civilization, and will not live by such falsified and falsified rules.”

So I guess the fight will continue. Now there are good reasons to think that Ukraine can win this war. There are also some surprising reasons: coupled with Russia’s blatantly poor training of its front-line soldiers, it turns out that having a military that is more representative of the nation it defends is more likely to win wars. Dartmouth professor Jason Lyall published a book in 2020, divided armieswho reviewed the historical evidence and found that nations that draw front-line soldiers from populations treated as second-class citizens (because they belong to an ethnic minority, for example) tend to lose wars, and armies that have less inequality before the war tend to lose wars. to win them.

Then a RAND Corporation Study of diversity in the military branches in the United States and the United Kingdom found that diversity brings decisive advantages on the battlefield. Ukraine’s military is 22 percent female. By contrast, only 4 percent of the Russian military are women (the US number is 16 percent). And while the Russian military is ethnically diverse, there are reports that most of the Russian casualties are poor ethnic minorities from the outer oblasts. Putin may be a tough guy, but these facts seem to matter more on the battlefield than the number of people a leader may have thrown out the window.

So maybe the Ukraine can… just win, baby. Perhaps there are forces in the Kremlin who are very unhappy with where Putin is taking Russia and are plotting to bring him down and sue for peace. Russia’s GDP is contracting about 3 percent this year, and the Biden administration revealed a series of new sanctions last Friday. A prominent Moscow newspaper has editorialized against a nuclear attack Putin is worrying China. Perhaps the world will still be spared from his brinkmanship.

Instead, a cornered animal does desperate things. If Putin takes the last step, the United States and the world have to find a way to take a stand without letting Putin drag the world into his sewer of violence. But as we have learned nationally in dealing with Donald Trump, crazy people who would do anything are not easy to counter.



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