Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent declaration that Russia had annexed four eastern and southern Ukraine regions has caused concern that the threat of nuclear war is closer than ever.
In a speech on Friday, Sept. 30, Putin said the Kremlin would incorporate the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
“I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me so that they remember this. People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever,” Putin said in the speech, according to The Washington Post.
Robert Baer, a former CIA officer and intelligence and security analyst for CNN, said people shouldn’t take Putin’s threats lightly – mainly since he is doing all he can to save face.
“I think the chances of his de-escalating are close to zero. He simply cannot give up so much ground and be seen to be losing and continue as the leader of Russia,” Baer said. “He’s a strong man. He’s portrayed himself that for the last 20 years. He doesn’t give in to dissent. He is completely cornered, and like a shark, he’s got to move forward. … I don’t see him caving in at all.”
“The chances of his using nuclear weapons, at least tactical nuclear weapons, is going up by the day. The Russians that I keep in touch with in Russia are convinced he’s going to go nuclear,” Baer said. “It was a threat initially but the more trouble he’s in the more likely he’s going to use nuclear weapons and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t actually use a tac against the Ukrainian forces.”
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Baer isn’t the only one who holds that opinion, notably after Putin doubled down on his warning to use “all available means” to defend what he considers Russian territory.
“We’re in a situation in which superiority in resources and conventional weaponry is on the side of the West,” Vasily Kashin, who specializes in military and political issues at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told the New York Times. “Russia’s power is based on its nuclear arsenal.”
Putin ally and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov encouraged the Kremlin to use that power.
“Use every opportunity and every weapon to defend OUR territory. Donetsk is still being shelled. Residents of the joined 4 territories want to be protected,” Kadyrov recently said, according to the National Review.