IN APRIL 2013, I wrote a column titled “Nuclear Blackmail,” where I talked about North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s saber rattling, threatening to send nuclear ballistic missiles to the United States and Guam.
Although nothing came out of Kim’s threat to send nuclear missiles to the U.S., it brought to the forefront of geopolitics the notion that a nuclear power no matter how small, poses the danger of nuclear holocaust by threatening to use nuclear missiles against another nuclear power.
And once North Korea uses her nuclear weapons, the U.S. will respond by unleashing a torrent of nuclear missiles against North Korea. Conceivably, this could lead to World War III and could, ultimately, end in a Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD, as is commonly used to depict what would result in such an exchange of nuclear missiles.
Putin’s nuclear threat
Nine years later, the same situation happened but on a bigger scale as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if the U.S. and her allies would invade Ukraine has caused concern in Washington DC. Indeed, with the U.S. arsenal of 5,500 nuclear warheads and Russia’s 6,000, it clearly raises the specter of a nuclear war that would destroy the entire civilization, which raises the question: What kind of a man is he who threatens to destroy mankind? Does the war in Ukraine warrant MAD? Only a mad man could think of such destruction, which makes one wonder: Is Putin crazy to risk nuclear war over some civil disturbances in Ukraine?
I don’t think Putin is crazy. His problem goes far beyond the current situation in Ukraine. One has to go back to December 25, 1991 when the Soviet Empire disintegrated. Vladimir Putin, then a KGB spy, was out of a job. He ended working as a taxi driver to survive.
But he lucked out when he found himself working for then-President Boris Yeltsen. One thing led to another. Pretty soon Yeltsin appointed him Prime Minister. But Yeltsin was very sick, which forced him to resign. He appointed Putin – a virtual unknown – as Acting President. Three months later, Putin was elected President of Russia. He’s been in power ever since.
In 2005, Putin told the Russian nation: “The demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” He lamented, saying, “It became a genuine tragedy for the Russian people. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”
Since then, he became obsessed with reviving the Soviet Empire when Russia ruled over Eastern Europe, from the three Baltic States down to Poland, Romania, and nine other former Soviet satellite countries. By 1997, all of them had joined NATO, except Ukraine who chose to remain neutral. It was a tragic mistake because Ukraine did not avail of the protection of NATO, whose Article 5 states that “an attack on one member will be an attack on all members.”
Putin, who cannot touch any NATO country, took aim at Ukraine. Putin encouraged two separatist regions of Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk – to declare independence from Ukraine, which Putin readily recognized as independent countries and declared them as allies. Once again, Putin’s evil genius was at play.
But Biden made a strategic blunder when he vowed never to invade or enter Ukraine. It emboldened Putin, which gave him the wrong message; which in effect was like saying, “Go ahead and invade Ukraine, I’ll stay out of it.” Biden’s reason was that once the U.S. forces entered Ukraine, it would trigger World War III. My God, didn’t Biden remember history? What he did was appease Putin just like when Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler in 1939 when he declared “Peace for our time” and signed a peace treaty with Hitler. Eight months later, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, which ignited World War II.
Eighty-four years later, Putin invaded Ukraine. Appeasement failed to work again. With Russian troops and tanks battling their way inside Ukraine, missiles raining on Kyiv, and thousands of Ukrainians fleeing to Poland and Romania, Biden offered help to evacuate the Ukrainian refugees. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declined, saying, “We need ammunition, not a ride.”
In an attempt to show that American forces are ready to help, Biden sent 800 U.S. troops to the Balkan States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, former Soviet republics that are on the border with Russia. Once again, it shows the tokenism that has characterized the Biden administration.
On February 26, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Europe committed to remove some Russian banks from the SWIFT system — Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication — deploying what the French Finance Minister called a “financial nuclear weapon” because of the damage it would cause to Russia.
At first, Biden was hesitant in supporting the expulsion of Russia from SWIFT. Arguably, it is one measure that appears to strike fear at the heart of the Kremlin, which is to cut Russia from the global banking system.
It is interesting to note that in 2014, Iran was blocked from the SWIFT system because of its nuclear program. In 2019, then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said losing access to SWIFT would be akin to a declaration of war against Russia, which demonstrates how vulnerable – and dangerous — Russia is to such action. I guess that’s what scared Biden.
Indeed, SWIFT would be one deterrence that would stop Russia from further invading Ukraine, simply because it would cause severe economic dislocation in Russia. It might even bankrupt – and implode — the Russian economy. That’s like dropping a nuclear bomb without the radioactive effect. We might witness the second disintegration of the former Soviet Empire.
But after Putin broke his word that he’ll never invade Ukraine, Biden was still optimistic that “peace can be achieved for our time.” “There’s still time to avert the worst-case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people if they move as suggested,” Biden said. “The United States and our allies and partners remain open to diplomacy, if it is serious when all is said and done. We’re gonna judge Russia by its actions, not its words.”
But Putin’s actions say it all: Ukraine has been invaded and thousands of Ukrainians are running to Poland, Romania, and Hungary. For all intents and purposes, World War III has begun!
But if Biden wants to achieve peace, all he has to do is appease Putin by accepting his demands; to wit: (1) Ukraine promises never to join NATO; (2) Recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and (3) Demilitarize Ukraine’s armed forces. However, Ukraine has stood firm in its resolve to join NATO and the European Union in the future, which was enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution of 2019. Zelensky, ever defiant, said, “We are not afraid of anyone or anything.”
Meanwhile, the Trump cult has gotten behind Putin. Following Trump who said that Putin is a “genius,” cult member Mike Pompeo parroted Trump’s praise, saying Putin is “very shrewd, very capable. I have enormous respect for him.”
Tucker Carlson, a FOX News host, had nothing but praises for Putin. But after Putin invaded Ukraine, Carlson changed his tune, which just shows if he truly means what he says on FOX News.
At the end of the day, while I wish Biden would show more resolve in fighting for the Ukrainians’ independence, I hope that Putin would realize that threatening to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. is nothing more like when children fight, threatening each other but hardly throwing a punch. In Putin’s case, his threat was nothing more than nuclear blackmail – mark of a coward — that threatens to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. but doesn’t have the guts to press the First Strike button knowing too well that the U.S. would respond with a devastating Second Strike that could wipe out Moscow off the face of the Earth.