Putin, sensing Biden’s weakness, heads for a nuclear showdown

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be doing everything he can to start a nuclear showdown with NATO over his genocidal war in Ukraine. But if he grants his wish, he could inadvertently set off a chain reaction of events beyond our control, a nuclear Pandora’s box that no one can close once unleashed.

Not only should his recent actions cast doubt on his actual sanity, he might even have suicidal thoughts.

By attacking a base for foreign arms supplies just 24 km from the Polish-Ukrainian border, Putin is signaling that weapons such as Javelin and NLAW anti-tank missiles, Stinger missiles and other weapons are wreaking havoc on the Russian army. And he wants this mess to stop, or he will wreak havoc himself, even if it means possibly Armageddon.

Biden addresses the public on March 11th.
Biden addresses the public on March 11th.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

But maybe he wants us to believe that? Countless leaders have gone haywire in times of crisis, and history shows that it can indeed pay off. Richard Nixon played the lunatic with the Soviet Union during troubled times in the Middle East, and Donald Trump threatened to destroy North Korea in a speech at the United Nations a few years ago, but no one dared to walk the talk. Putin seems determined to use his own strategy of maximum pressure on the West to come dangerously close to attacking NATO territory – and start World War III.

Or does Putin just think he can get away with the West just giving in? Unfortunately, its logic may not be as distorted as we would like to think.

We don’t exactly have much faith in President Joe Biden’s performance to date. He can hardly get through a press conference without stumbling through his talking points, often appearing dazed and confused, and many wonder if his cognitive abilities are failing rapidly.

An explosion in an apartment building hit by Russian shelling.
An explosion in an apartment building hit by Russian shelling.
AP Photo/Evgeny Maloletka

Compare him to the man he is today in the 2012 vice presidential debate against Paul Ryan. Biden is clearly lost in his own thoughts and shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car, let alone behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

And that could explain Moscow’s actions. Putin might think he can roll over the president. If Biden can barely speak coherently with the American people, how can he go toe-to-toe with a nuclear superpower like Russia and prevail?

In fact, Putin might think he can get Biden to back down to try and force Ukraine into a negotiated settlement that would turn Kyiv into a limbo state that can never join NATO or the European Union, leaving huge swathes of the Ukrainian territory are locked behind what will become a new iron curtain of authoritarianism.

Activists kneel during a minute's silence during a protest against the Russia-Ukraine war near the White House.
Activists kneel during a minute’s silence during a protest against the Russia-Ukraine war near the White House.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Biden would not send Polish MiG-29s to Ukraine and would not support a no-fly zone. Perhaps Putin thinks that if he escalates enough, he can get Biden to lose a little more ground, take away from him the weapons Ukraine needs to survive.

This is where it gets ugly. Putin knows his armored forces won’t be able to gain much ground in a matter of weeks as Ukraine turns into a giant mud pit. He now has to push forward as hard and as fast as possible to get as far ahead as possible before spring arrives.

To do this, he must slow down or stop the import of foreign arms into Ukraine. And that means Putin is likely to attack any arms convoys, ammunition depots, supply centers, and shipping facilities that support such efforts.

Putin delivers a speech in honor of International Women's Day on March 8th.
Putin delivers a speech in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th.

All of this leads to an inescapable conclusion: things are destined to get worse. Facts on the ground and Putin’s calculations about American leadership could push him to cross the very edges of what many see as red lines as Russia is on the verge of running out of room to move forward. We are now at a point where a clash between NATO and Russia is more like annihilation than negotiation. And that should scare us all.

Harry J. Kazianis is Senior Director of the Center for the National Interest. Twitter: @Grecianformula Putin, sensing Biden’s weakness, heads for a nuclear showdown


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