A Nuclear Threat as a Way to Stop the War in Ukraine?

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It cannot be ruled out that the so-called “nuclear threat” from Kyiv is merely a smokescreen that actually covers far more interesting plans to de-escalate the conflict
Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: Although most countries are now focused on domestic issues as they approach winter, the conflict in Ukraine remains a focus of international attention. Military confrontation spilling over into the energy sector is of particular concern to European politicians, including those in Moldova. We are already experiencing an extreme shortage of electricity, risking also the loss of available gas stored in Ukrainian storage facilities. The warnings, which in fact are threats, about the use of nuclear weapons actively replicated by various parties have taken an unexpected turn. This is about Moscow’s statements alleging Kyiv’s preparations of a “dirty bomb”. This prompted a series of telephone conversations between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his US, British, French, and Turkish counterparts. A few days earlier, according to the press, British Secretary of State Ben Wallace rushed to the Pentagon to discuss the situation in Ukraine. In fact, Shoigu called all the capitals of the so-called “nuclear five” (China, probably, too). Thus, we can assume that the Kremlin shared some intelligence, deeming it reliable, with its Western counterparts, which could justify a possible “retaliatory” strike with tactical nuclear weapons. Apart from the harsh scenario, it cannot be ruled out that the motives for starting the “dirty bomb” story result from Moscow’s desire to launch another proxy attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, using various international mechanisms, primarily UN structures. Nuclear power plants currently form the basis of Ukraine’s generating capacity. Therefore, should a nuclear incident occur, not only international inspections at Ukrainian nuclear power plants but also the complete denuclearization of the neighboring country may be considered. The other day, the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded, almost in an ultimatum-like manner, that Kyiv stop its “dirty bomb” provocations and that Western countries influence Ukrainian politicians. Most likely, Moscow wants to cling to this rather beneficial topic and continue whipping up a nuclear threat from Ukraine. The goal is to create maximum tension and force the key actors to accelerate the Russian-Ukrainian conflict into a diplomatic phase. It should be admitted that some of the Western elites, including those in the US, are indeed slowly tilting toward negotiations. Not only the involvement of prominent businessmen and politicians in the Ukrainian issue is indicative, but also a rather dubious story with a collective letter from a group of Democratic Party congressmen to the White House. In their appeal, they called on the Biden administration to drastically change its approach to the conflict in Ukraine and engage in direct talks with Russia to reach an early cease-fire. Although eventually the letter was sort of withdrawn, the White House did not deny the possibility of negotiations, but only with the participation of Kyiv, which the latter is not yet ready for. Another point is that the United Kingdom, Ukraine’s second most important ally, has stepped into a difficult domestic political transition. The ruling Conservative party, determined to bring London back into the geopolitical big leagues, is losing support from its citizens. As a result, an eccentric political figure was replaced by a moderate technocrat financier to lead the government. The first statements by the new Cabinet suggest that it will primarily focus on the recovery of the British economy – so, most likely, support for Ukraine may take a back seat against the backdrop of domestic political problems, but it will definitely not stop. Along with this, experts point to another important aspect. Xi Jinping re-elected and the internal party hierarchy defined may activate China both in terms of a peaceful settlement of the conflict and in terms of playing along with Moscow. Importantly, according to the decisions at the recent Communist Party Congress, Beijing is going to brace itself for global challenges and for the fight against internal and external enemies. To this end, the economy will be rapidly rebuilt, the army will be modernized, most likely for the possible use of military force in Taiwan. Thus, Beijing, in fact, has formed a doctrine for the next 5-10 years, which provides for a protracted military and economic confrontation with the United States. China’s more pronounced posture can change the balance of perception of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which is not as existentially important to the West as China, viewed as the number one threat. Therefore, the processes are likely to be accelerated given Washington’s desire for a speedy solution to the Ukrainian issue. The White House understands that the two-front standoff is unwise and costly, since most of the goals in Ukraine have been achieved, and Moscow is already badly stuck, both militarily and diplomatically. Meanwhile, the situation on the front is again at a standstill. The sides are still amassing reserves and mobilization resources, preparing for another decisive battle. Many view Moscow’s decision to abandon Kherson as a trap for the Ukrainian armed forces to exhaust Ukraine’s offensive potential in urban battles so as to launch a counteroffensive closer to winter. There are also signs that Moscow may decide to open a second front in the north of Ukraine to disperse the Ukrainian army, and organize several expeditionary raids either towards Kyiv or to strategic facilities, such as the Rivne nuclear power plant. It cannot be ruled out that the so-called nuclear threat from Kyiv is nothing more than a smokescreen that actually covers far more interesting plans to de-escalate the conflict. Not without reason the British minister of defense, speaking to Shoigu, mentioned London’s readiness to help resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Softer rhetoric from the military is no coincidence and indicates only one thing: the global players are looking for a suitable excuse to launch negotiations. Given the current uncompromising stance of the Ukrainian leadership, it will be hard and painful to convince Kyiv to return to diplomacy. Starting negotiations with Moscow could be interpreted as Ukraine’s unwillingness to engage in further hostilities, including the “Kherson operation”, and will prove that Russian ultimatum demands regarding territorial claims and military and political status of Ukraine are justified.