(FiveNation.com)- Director of national intelligence Avril Haines told the US Senate armed services committee that the next phase of Russia’s invasion was unclear and likely to be more unexpected and “escalatory.”
Haines told the Senate that the US did not perceive an “imminent” threat that Moscow would use nuclear weapons, but if Putin saw he was losing the Ukraine battle or that Nato was “either involved or about to interfere,” he may get desperate.
Some Western commentators recommend that Putin be offered a face-saving way out of his predicament. That would be a simple reaction to a complicated problem, not the balanced approach required. It would send a frightening message to governments worldwide, warning that armed aggression is a sure way to wield international dominance.
Some analysts in the United States believe that humiliating Putin would lead to the Russian deployment of nuclear weapons and that the West should provide him a way out of his dilemma. While diplomacy should always minimize any unnecessary danger of war escalation, the truth is that Russian nuclear weapons deployment in Ukraine is improbable. Last month, CIA Director William Burns informed Congress that the US had seen no “actual proof” that Russia is building nuclear weapons for use in the near future, despite the Russian bluster.
It’s unclear what benefits Russia would receive from utilizing nuclear weapons. The Kremlin claims it is battling to safeguard Russian speakers in Ukraine. Using a nuclear bomb on that battlefield would put the lives of the people Russia claims to be protecting in jeopardy.
By detonating a small nuclear weapon, Russia may try to scare Ukraine and its allies. However, indicators show that Putin’s saber-rattling is already threatening Russians. A “demonstration strike” in Ukraine might further agitate and divide the Russian elites through which Putin wields power. Finally, Russian military and nuclear doctrine restrict the use of nuclear weapons by the Russian army to two scenarios: responding to a weapon of mass destruction against Russia or its allies, or when conventional warfare threatens Russian nuclear command and control or the state’s existence. The conflict in Ukraine is not one of them.
Even if Russia’s warnings are unfounded, the United States must respond forcefully. President Biden has stated that if Russia uses a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), the US will retaliate but has not specified that retaliation. While making operational specifics public would be risky, some level of precision would be beneficial.
A warning to the Kremlin that is too broad risks seeming like a movable “red line.”
Rather than attempting to assist Putin in escaping this self-created crisis, the US and its allies must be even more steadfast in their opposition to Russian aggression, plainly stating the implications for Russia and Putin should he choose to use WMDs. Then we must be ready to follow through on our threats.