Putin’s frightening endgame in Ukraine

Putin’s frightening endgame in Ukraine

Bertrand Russell was once quoted as saying, “War doesn’t determine who is right, but only who is left.”

The atom bomb used in World War II never decided who was right but only left a black spot on the entire human race.

On September 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization, while vowing to use all means necessary to defend Russia and pledging to annex new territories, raising the stakes in the seven-month-old conflict.

The partial mobilization meant that more reservists wouls be drafted into military service on an immediate basis. Calling such moves “urgent, necessary steps to defend the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Russia,” Putin said Russia was fighting the full might of NATO. He also accused the West of using “nuclear blackmail” against Russia, adding that “if its territorial integrity is threatened, Russia will use all the means at its disposal.”

Various countries were quick to react, most notably China, which issued a statement within hours after the speech calling for a “ceasefire through dialogue.” This was perhaps the first time Beijing had so clearly and publicly pushed for a ceasefire after such a key Moscow announcement.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh warned his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu that nuclear weapons should not be used by any side in the Ukraine war. New Delhi has adopted a studied public neutrality toward Russia.

A day later, US President Joe Biden in his speech at the UN General Assembly said Putin was “reckless” in issuing a veiled threat about using his nuclear arsenal. He rebuked Russia’s “outrageous’’ escalation in Ukraine, while insisting that the US was “not seeking a new Cold War.”

But President Biden was completely ignoring the fact that the US had already entered a “Colder War” and there was no turning back.

The new Colder War

 It has been 30 years since the Cold War ended. For 30 years American foreign-policy makers have shifted their focus toward the Middle East and the dangerous threat emerging from terrorism. But now after the loss in Afghanistan, their focus has shifted toward the Eurasian region.

Seven months into the Ukraine war, the conflict’s escalation pattern remains consistent. Russia periodically strikes targets within Ukrainian population centers, and the West lodges its complaints with threats of dangerous consequences.

The West viewed Russia as a major land power that could challenge the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s position in the Baltics, while Russia thought it would lose the psychological battle with Ukraine as a significant and stable power if it didn’t take proactive steps.

For this reason, on September 30, President Putin in a grand ceremony announced that four territories of Ukraine were now controlled by his army and urged Kiev to lay down its arms and negotiate an end to the fighting.

When he came to power, Putin inherited a natural-resources bounty, a big part of Russia’s influence. Europe has historically depended on energy supplies from Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union. It continued to import oil and gas from Russia.

The United States has long opposed its NATO allies’ dependence on Russia’s natural gas, especially Germany’s. Russia supplied around 40% of all the gas consumed in the European Union in 2021.

Natural gas has been the bedrock of Putin’s power for decades. But the recent Nordstream leaks have put a dent in his power.

Nord Stream 1 is a 1,224-kilometer underwater gas pipeline running from Vyborg in northwestern Russia to Lubmin in northeastern Germany via the Baltic Sea and then to the rest of the European countries.

Nord Stream 2, which runs from Ust-Luga in Leningrad to Lubmin, was completed in September 2021. The pipeline was built in order to increase gas exports to Europe, aiming to double annual capacity. It is majority-owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom.

While investigations have not yet revealed the cause of the leaks, Danish police in their initial investigation found that the damage was caused by a powerful explosion, as reported by Reuters.

It also reported: “Sweden and Denmark have both concluded that four leaks on Nord Stream 1 and 2 were caused by explosions, but have not said who might be responsible. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called the damage an act of sabotage.”

Leaders in Europe, the United States and Russia suspect foul play. It would be very irrational for any European state to carry out a sabotage operation against the two pipelines, as they have to face a harsh winter without Russian gas in the next few months.

The Russians had no cause to sabotage the Nord Stream pipelines as it would sabotage their own interests. They would lose all their leverage with Europe if they destroyed their own pipelines. On the contrary, Putin has categorically termed the leaks international terrorism aimed at undermining the energy security of the entire continent.

Speaking at a Moscow energy forum, he also alleged – without any concrete proof – that the US wanted to force Europe to switch to importing more expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG). In the past, the US has opposed Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

Whatever the truth on the Nord Stream leaks, Europeans will have to face a hard winter in 2022, and likely beyond, without any Russian gas. But that’s the nature of Colder War, a persistent period of sabotaging each other’s interests through asymmetrical warfare to take an upper hand on your adversaries rather than settling scores on a battleground.

‘Whatever it takes’

But Putin doesn’t want to destroy Europe and Ukraine, he just wants them to remain dependent on Russian natural gas, which gives him an upper hand. Since his ascendance after the Cold War, Putin has solely focused on developing Russia’s vast natural resources under his control, which include oil, natural gas and uranium.

Even his postgraduate thesis revealed that he has always believed in natural resource-led supremacy to bring Russia back on the table reserved for world leaders. He has successfully achieved his goal in the last two decades of his rule.

But the US is now sending more gas to Europe by ship than Russia is sending by pipeline, according to The Wall Street Journal. In July, US LNG accounted for 13% of the total supply to Europe, compared with 10% from Russian pipelines. The US has become an important energy player sending LNG to Europe in ever-increasing quantities, despite the fact that US LNG is far more expensive than Russian gas.

Europe has been using US-supplied LNG to help fill its storage tanks for the coming winter. As part of the Biden-EU plan announced in March, the US and other nations will increase LNG exports to Europe by 15 billion cubic meters this year. Later on, the White House said it would work with the European Commission toward ensuring supply until at least 2030.By 2027, Europe plans to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels of any kind.

This will seriously undermine the Russian position as a great power in the future and the time is ticking fast. That’s where the clash of interests emerges.

Ukraine is the linchpin for the West and Putin. Both Russia and the West see Ukraine as a prospective buffer against each other’s interests. Ukraine has the second-biggest known gas reserves in Europe, although largely unexploited. So the one that controls the majority of the Ukrainian region will hold Europe’s future.

Putin has hardly any choices left: Either he launches a serious military offensive against Ukraine or he admits defeat. But launching such offensive measures will come at the risk of huge military causalities and strong pressure from the public.

But to admit defeat against a much smaller opponent like Ukraine would put the legitimacy of Putin’s regime at risk. So the last option that remains is to escalate. The only escalation that could change the course of events at this point is nuclear.

So when President Biden says that Putin is not bluffing about using nuclear weapons, he is absolutely correct. In the past, Putin has explicitly demonstrated that he is willing to do whatever it takes to win, even at the risk of undermining his own regime to protect Russian interests until Ukraine’s surrender. That’s why the world may soon wake up to the news that Ukraine has been nuclear-bombed.