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Putin would use nuclear weapons to accomplish his mission without blinking an eye


Steven Boykey Sidley is a Professor at JBS, University of Johannesburg, and the co-author of Beyond Bitcoin: Decentralised Finance and the End of Banks (with Simon Dingle).

The Russian leader’s strategy might be to kill civilians so that he can take the empire back. Or repel Nato’s westward march. Or stop democracy from reaching his country. It really doesn’t matter. He will obliterate innocents without blinking to achieve whatever is in his bloated head.

Imagine this, if you will. A Russia, whose army is bogged down by poor logistics, facing furious and determined citizen defenders and frustrated by increasing sales of drones, anti-tank missiles and financial support from the West. 

Imagine now, Russia launching a tactical nuclear strike somewhere over Ukraine. 

Imagine this, if you will. Because you must. 

I, like many others in this frightening time, spend a good portion of my spare time reading analyses of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While simultaneously trying to avert my eyes from the footage of grief, pain, sadness and loss. It’s difficult to do, perhaps impossible, as the images march brutishly across every screen. 

These sober analyses, promiscuously opined across global media and exploring the whys and wherefores, the strategies, the histories, the political grudges, the geopolitical chess games of many possible futures are broad and bewildering. But to my eyes they feel disconcerting and even obscene, although they are certainly well-intentioned, well-considered, well-researched and important. 

But obscene because they are just too far from the images of a crying 11-year-old girl whose non-combatant parents have just been killed by Russian mortars. Parents who just a short time ago were likely taking her to play in the local park in the slowly thawing winter. 

Which leads me to this simpler narrative a tyrant killing and innocents dying. The intellectual meanderings of wonks often miss this stark matter. I don’t really care for their careful unpacking of history, at least not now, perhaps another day when reflection seems more appropriate. Especially those who blame America, Nato, the West. Only the most useful of idiots descend to this and attempt to draw a moral equivalence between them and Putin. 

I care mostly about the fact that Putin’s strategy is to kill civilians, so that he can take the empire back. Or repel Nato’s westward march. Or stop democracy from reaching his country. Or regain his erection. It really doesn’t matter. He will obliterate innocents without blinking to achieve whatever is in his bloated head. And he is doing so without restraint and lying about it through his captured media (the maternity hospital that was bombed was a “hotbed of terrorists”; the kindergarten that was bombed “wasn’t bombed at all” – it is all Western propaganda and fake news, the Ukrainians are “committing genocide” on Russian civilians in Donetsk, etc). 

He has obliterated apartment blocks, schools, hospitals, killed farmers, blown up trains – ah, damn, every living human soul in that sad country is in his sights and expendable. To say nothing of his successful blocking of all independent news sources in his own country and outside of it, including the collaring of every internet keyhole on truth, successfully hiding the horror from his 145 million citizens.

I saw something on social media this morning. A young Ukrainian mother posted a before and after photo. Her home. Before the war – a sweet, small house with a garden and flowers. And now, monochrome dark rubble. Her post was short– “I will never forgive”. 

Yes, well. I remind you of Aleppo, Syria. Aided and co-planned by the Russians, it was simply flattened, disappeared, cancelled by ordnance. It was a strategy that worked. Dead innocents, mission successful. 

The living relatives may not forgive. 

But history forgets.  

Putin knows this. History is written by winners. And if the slaughter of innocents is the cost of winning, then all is justified. This military strategy is cruelty writ large, supported by a long list of practitioners, from Genghis Khan to Stalin.

Do you really think Putin will not consider the nuclear option if the ceiling starts to come down on this invasion and the whole project threatens to end in ignominy (which would mean his exit from power, if not life)? Yes, he would. He does not care about dead bodies, Russian or otherwise. The threat of Western deterrence is a paper tiger. The West would never respond, because a tactical nuclear explosion above Moldavia or Krakow or Berlin would be the end of the world, and the West knows that. He knows that, and the West knows that he knows that. 

So, here is why you must imagine this: Putin has become one of history’s great monsters. While people were looking elsewhere and expending energy yelling at smaller men who could not hold a candle to Putin.

To my reckoning, he is not going to negotiate, withdraw, tell the truth or play the diplomacy game. He has made this clear, time and time again. He is an ex-KGB intelligence officer. Lying, deception and brutality are the tools of his trade. 

And if there is no other option, a nuclear weapon will do the damage.

Imagine, if you will. 

Imagine because you must.


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  • Craig B says:

    Russia has cooked its goose whatever the outcome in Ukraine. It will have to turn to China for business in future and for sure China will NEVER put up with the s*** that the Americans and the Europeans have. It’s a good thing, the world will be more balanced.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Except that the reason why MAD was effective still apply.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    I lost trust in humanity. It is 2022 and the world has advanced in terms of technology and accepting diversity and different views. Yet, power and greed remain. Despite the numerous lessons from history, it seems if leadership and kindness did not advance at all. Just the means (nuclear weapons) advanced. Putin is like all the others who do not know how to handle the responsibility of being a leader. Which is to care for people. All people.

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