Kremlin nuclear hysteria: To wage or not to wage nuclear war

Dmitry Kiselyov, Russian TV host discussing nuclear war with the US 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Kremlin nuclear hysteria is pervasive in Russia, touching nearly all aspects of Russian life. Nuclear war propaganda is everyday fare on Russian TV, with a multitude of programs on the topic of missile defense and nuclear technology. But the intensity of the most recent militaristic rhetoric has reached such a fever pitch that it’s invaded the educational sphere, and not just into colleges or high schools, but into elementary schools.

Alexander Sotnik

Alexander Sotnik

Well-known Russian journalist Alexander Sotnik published on his social media page a post from a woman confirming that teachers in at least one elementary school in Moscow were terrifying children with talk of nuclear war with the United States and impending death if Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election.

“I want to tell you a story that happened to my grandson. He is 9 years old, he’s in the 4th grade at school No. 1232 in the the city of Moscow. The other day this boy came home very sad. When I asked him about what happened, he burst into tears! Then he told us about how their teacher told the children in the classroom that if Hillary Clinton comes to power in the US, she will begin a nuclear war, and they are all going to die! This was followed by a story that Americans have invented a mosquito that can infect children with cancer! Mind you, this was told to small children, who are very vulnerable psychologically. They could easily develop a serious neurosis!” said the outraged Muscovite.

We interviewed a number of experts about what might be behind such outlandish propaganda warfare. There is consensus among most of the analysts we spoke to that we are dealing with a spectacular bluff, strategically designed to force the West to make concessions to Russia. The same idea is shared by Russian opposition politician and leader of the party Democratic Choice, who is also President of the Institute of Energy PolicyVladimir Milov.

The entire campaign is designed for specific powerful individuals in the United States, those who are particularly sensitive about the issue of cooperation with Russia on nuclear nonproliferation. – Vladimir Milov

“The entire campaign is designed for specific powerful individuals in the United States, those who are particularly sensitive about the issue of cooperation with Russia on nuclear nonproliferation. In America, this theme holds a special place in national security policymaking. Note that the Americans even removed sanctions against Iran in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons,” Milov explained.

Vladimir Milov

Vladimir Milov

According to Vladimir Milov, there is a large stratum within the American establishment who are willing to forgive any of Moscow’s excesses so long as there is continuing cooperation in the nuclear arena.

“Putin wants to scare these people, and thus create additional pressure in the highest echelons of US power such that “Making peace with Russia is necessary, otherwise we will lose out on nuclear cooperation,” said the Russian opposition leader.

Vladimir Milov, maintaining close ties with his American counterparts, explains that US security issues are always solved collectively, and there is a fairly large group of policy-makers in this area. These include various intelligence agencies from the Pentagon, government officials and even specialized think tanks.

“It is in this community that nuclear issues have always been prioritized above all others. It is precisely these specialists that Putin wants to frighten. But, apparently, he no longer scares them,”- he concludes.

At the same time, despite the warlike character of the Kremlin’s statements, the Russian politician does not believe that beneath the facade of nuclear threats, Putin is actually preparing a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

It seems that Putin’s only tenable recourse is in air strikes and air defense, as in the security operation in Crimea. – Vladimir Milov

“It seems that Putin’s only tenable recourse is in air strikes and air defense, as in the security operation in Crimea. An invasion of Ukraine would entail battles for large cities, street fighting, which will mean having to fight for every house.  Putin wouldn’t dare anything of the kind. You can see in the example of Aleppo that he does not dare to take such a battle on and he’s had the opportunity for over a year,” says Vladimir Milov.

The president of the Institute of the Eastern Partnership (Israel), Rabbi Avraham Shmulevich adheres to a diametrically opposite point of view. According to Shmulevich, in the eyes of senior Russian government officials, nuclear war appears to be something quite acceptable, and enhanced preparation for such a conflict fits right into this terrible logic.

Putin is clearly preparing for a total confrontation with the West and NATO, including a nuclear confrontation. – Avraham Shmulevich

“Putin is clearly preparing for a total confrontation with the West and NATO, including a nuclear confrontation. Throughout Central Russia, people are intensively building bunkers and stockpiling food and supplies, as the Kremlin propaganda apparatus has convinced the public that a nuclear war is nothing to worry about. We’ve never seen this even in Soviet times.

Avraham Shmulevich

Avraham Shmulevich

The army is being modernized into a war footing, and infrastructure and the economy is following in the same direction. In short, to paraphrase a famous saying about the quacking duck: if Putin says he is preparing for a nuclear war, and if the army is preparing for war, perhaps it is actually the case. It is important to understand that propaganda works not only on Russia’s population, but also on Russia’s leadership. They are beginning to believe their own lies,” Shmulevich said convincingly.

According to the Israeli expert, one of his friends, a major Russian businessman who in the course of his regular business dealings about a year ago, met with representatives of the Russian ruling elite at the level of Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov and deputy heads of the Presidential Administration.

“They calmly discussed in front of him the possibility of dropping a nuke on Raqqah when the battle with ISIL [ISIS] flares up the next time. He was shocked that for them this possibility was very real,” said the rabbi.

Putin sees himself as the successor to the continuing history of the Cold War, and his main goal is to take revenge for the collapse of the Soviet Union. – Avraham Shmulevich

Shmulevich believes Putin sees himself as the successor to the continuing history of the Cold War, and his main goal is to take revenge for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Hitler was not a stupid man either. He knew what war meant, and yet he could assume that starting World War II would greatly affect his own country. Nevertheless, he wanted war, and so took up war, in spite of all the precautions against it. The same thing could happen here. This is the logic of dictators. They unfortunately never know when to stop. Now we see that Putin really ups the ante from one local war to another,” he warned.


 

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Translated by: Paula Chertok
Source: Krym Realii/RFERL

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