Vladimir Putin’s declaration that Moscow will create a nuclear strike force capable of overcoming any anti-ballistic missile system works to Ukraine’s advantage both by showing to the world what his foreign policy is really about – a return to the Cold War – and by diverting, for a time, his focus from Ukraine, according to Vitaly Portnikov.
The Ukrainian commentator says that Putin’s statement is “a clear demonstration of what the logic of the return to the Soviet Union will lead to.” No longer will anyone be able to view the Russian attack on Ukraine or the earlier one on Georgia as a successful “Kremlin act of local or ‘hybrid’ war.”
As long as people in the West viewed things in this way, they could view what Putin has been doing as a tactic intended “to preserve [Russia’s] position on the post-Soviet space and interfere with the development of neighboring countries” rather than as something that constituted a direct challenge to them and thus required more military spending.
Many in Russia and the West “asserted,” Portnikov continues, “that in such a regime Putin could maintain power forever.” Of course, “they said something similar about Brezhnev when the aging Soviet leader introduced forces into Afghanistan.” But by talking about nuclear arms and countering ABM defenses, Putin has made such interpretations insupportable.
The Kremlin leader “really can try to minimize the means spent on the war in the Donbas – and it is no accident that he so insistently tries to force Ukraine to support the territories he’s occupied. But the logic of a besieged fortress is simple” and it is extremely costly for those who are creating it, Portnikov says.
“Putin is certain,” he writes, “that the goal of the Americans is ‘the neutralization of the strategic nuclear potential of nuclear powers other than the United States and its allies and above all our country Russia.” And that is really frightening to him because “he has nothing to offer the world besides a nuclear threat.”
“Consequently,” Portnikov says, “if Washington will no longer be afraid of his bombs and rockets, he will not be able to act the hooligan any longer. No one will conduct negotiations with him about Ukraine or Syria. They will act as they did with Milosevic: a NATO military occupation and then his transfer to the Hague.”
That is what “the Kremlin military criminal fears most of all,” the Ukrainian analyst says, “and therefore he will spend any sums for the defense against an imaginary threat, having failed to understand that in this way he will undermine his country’s economic potential.”
In short, Putin will conduct himself just as the Soviet leaders did when they were frightened by Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program. They boosted their military spending to be able to preserve themselves by being in a position to destroy humanity. As a result, they ultimately had to withdraw not only from Afghanistan and Central Europe but also had presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Given Putin’s analogous reaction to the West’s new defense measures, he is setting the stage for Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. And thus, Portnikov concludes, because he is now acting on them, “Putin’s fears help us.”