Ukraine’s unilateral nuclear decision could have been us - Brian Monteith

We are now at the 18th day of Vladimir Putin’s war on the Ukrainian people and their government, which in itself tells its own story of the Kremlin leader’s failure.

Would Putin have dared make his move had he known just how difficult it would be to achieve military objectives that could allow him to claim victory?

As this war drags on there is a growing risk the Russian president becomes impatient as his humiliation mounts. He may then choose to escalate his “military operation” to a level that makes it even more ridiculous to deny to his people he has started a war.

The option of chemical, biological and tactical nuclear weapons being used by Putin explains why at the weekend the Polish president warned using weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine would become a “game changer”.

A woman walks past a street art depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin putting a "cancelled" poster over a "Make Love Not War" writting, in Paris. Picture: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

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In an interview with the BBC where he discussed Putin’s intentions, Polish president Andrzej Duda warned: "If he uses any weapons of mass destruction, then this will be a game changer in the whole thing."

The obvious reading of his quotes is the Western democracies, through Nato, would find it difficult not to become involved as the risks to Ukraine’s neighbours could quite simply drift into Poland or Hungary.

Clearly the calculation has been made by Western leaders that Putin needs the clarity of a warning that any such escalation would not be acceptable. In an effort to head-off any such unconscionable decision, it has fallen to Ukraine’s neighbour to make that warning and give it some rational context.

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The initial concern arose because the Russians have been making claims that bio-labs in the Ukraine that received US funding to help deal with the Covid pandemic have a military purpose. Dismissed as “absurd”, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was concerned enough to tell German newspaper Welt am Sonntag the Kremlin could be inventing false pretexts to justify a chemical intervention, saying: "Now that these false claims have been made, we must remain vigilant because it is possible that Russia itself could plan chemical weapons operations under this fabrication of lies. That would be a war crime."

One thing is certain in my mind. Had Ukraine not signed away its nuclear weapons into retiral and become reliant on using only conventional forces to defend itself against a nuclear-armed aggressor on its border then this war would not be happening.

Given that Putin and his military believe the tactical use of nuclear weapons in battle is a legitimate action, the lack of a nuclear deterrent to the Ukrainians means it too cannot be ruled out. And yet we have CND supporter Nicola Sturgeon and her Green minister, Lorna Slater, telling us that being free of Britain’s nuclear defence should be our aspiration.

The unilateral nuclear disarmament of Ukraine has, in part, left them to be defenceless against a much larger and more belligerent foe. By comparison, it is their membership of Nato by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that discourages Putin from marching his troops into the Baltic states, and the same protection goes for Poland too.

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Britain’s commitment of an armoured infantry battalion with main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery and armoured fighting vehicles, as well as air cover from Typhoons and Lightnings, are working with French and Danish colleagues in Estonia to ensure Putin’s gamble does not spread.

The claim the West is responsible for Putin’s illegal war because it was willing to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in allowing it to apply for membership of Nato is disingenuous for it ignores the fact that Nato does not allow countries with ongoing border disputes to join.

Putin’s earlier annexation of Crimea and the border area of Donbass put that exclusion in force and invalidated his claim that possible Nato membership by Ukraine posed a threat. It would have been no more a threat than that posed by Poland or the Baltic states.

The reality is that Putin is an authoritarian demagogue who has had no compunction to eliminate his opposition at home or abroad. His latest laws to prosecute demonstrators that can lead to sentences of up to 15 years tells its own story – and was illustrated at the weekend by a woman being arrested for her crime of holding up a blank placard.

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When this war ends – and it is a war and it will end – the historical reputation of Putin will have been trashed by his own actions. He will earn a legacy that damages not just him, but sadly Russia too. For it will take a generation to cleanse Europe and the world of a regime so brutal and aggressive in its prosecution of Russian imperialism.

To give some context, compare the achievement of Nelson Mandela, once the leader of the communist-trained and funded African National Congress, who spent 27 years in prison for his actions and beliefs, but once freed sought to bring a divided and ostracised country together in harmony, with that of Putin.

He was a senior officer in the Soviet KGB, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after 16 years service, but rather than follow Mandela’s path of conversion by embracing his enemies and the liberal western values of open democracy, he has instead polarised Russian society and eliminated his opposition.

He could have built a legacy that would have made the need for Nato redundant. He could have orientated Russia towards the West, but instead he has followed the path of maintaining power to the cost of his many victims.

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It is leaders like Putin that validate the need for nuclear weapons. Thank goodness we ignored Sturgeon and her like in the ‘80s and should continue to ignore unilateralism now.

- Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland and a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments.

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