An Eastern and Central European expert discusses the direction of the war in Ukraine, including the likelihood of Russia using biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
Vladimir Putin “made a tragic mistake” by going to war with Ukraine, said Randall Stone, professor of political science and chair of the political science department at the University of Rochester..
Meanwhile, Stone, an expert on Russian and Eastern European politics who is director of the University’s Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, stresses that the West must be careful to avoid climbing ; in particular, NATO should not send air forces to Ukraine.
“It seems believable that Putin is ready to escalate,” he said in an interview in April. “Why? Because he was willing to risk the invasion in the first place. He chose to put himself in a position where if we intervene he loses, and probably loses everything, not just Ukraine, but his diet, perhaps his life.
Q&A with Randall Stone
Putin shifts his military focus to eastern Ukraine. Why?
- Putin is looking for something he can sell as a success because the war in Ukraine is not going the way he expected.
Calculation: Most observers agree that to end the conflict, Putin must earn something he can sell as a success at home. He no longer thinks that Russia is going to take kyiv, or any other major city in Ukraine, but that he might be able to cut off a large part of the Ukrainian army, which is currently deployed in the east against the region. of Donbass.
This could be a tactical victory that would allow him to impose a territorial settlement, which would expand the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – which Putin declared “independent” a few weeks ago – to include the entire administrative regions of Donbass and Lugansk. Maybe that’s something he could sell as a home win.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signaled his willingness to compromise on NATO membership and possibly accept Ukraine’s neutrality in exchange for some form of multilateral security guarantee, Zelensky has firmly resisted the demands to abandon Ukrainian territory.
I really think a decisive victory for Russia seems impossible at this stage. Conversely, the eventual collapse of the Russian military seems possible amid signs of real structural weakness in the Russian military. And let’s not forget the popular unrest in Russia, which could become another solution to the crisis.
What are Putin’s biggest mistakes in this crisis?
- “What was supposed to be a relatively easy military operation for Russia has turned into a quagmire, which could lead to popular unrest that directly threatens Putin’s regime.”
Calculation: Until February 24, Putin seemed highly unlikely to be removed from power anytime soon. He had solid control over all the ministries in Moscow, which were run by his former KGB cronies, and there was no strong opposition to his rule. Most Russians get their news from Russian television, which has been under strict state control for years. In short, he was very secure politically, but all that could now change with a defeat in Ukraine.
There are already signs that several thousand Russian soldiers have been killed and injured in Ukraine. Credible estimates suggest that up to 15,000 Russian soldiers may have died.
This all adds up to a very different type of war than Putin intended when he invaded on February 24. What was supposed to be a relatively easy military operation for Russia has turned into a quagmire, which could lead to popular unrest that directly threatens Putin’s policies. diet.
How should the West react?
- America must avoid escalating the situation in order to avoid a nuclear war.
Calculation: It is crucial for US foreign policy not to escalate the situation in a way that would bring the US and Russia into direct conflict, which would be extremely dangerous. We are dealing with a dictator who has his back against the wall and who will seek any output at this point. Turning this into a war with the West would be a way for Putin to divert the narrative from the series of terrible mistakes he made. We must avoid giving him that opportunity and ensure that this war does not become a nuclear exchange. Proposals to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would involve US Air Force patrols in Ukrainian airspace, present a real danger of escalation that could lead to nuclear war . This is why the Biden administration has been careful to circumscribe the intervention of the United States and NATO in the conflict.
How likely is Russia to use biological or chemical weapons?
- The use of biological and chemical weapons by Russia is unlikely.
Calculation: Chemical and biological weapons are really not useful as military weapons; they are effective means of terrorizing civilians. I think it is highly unlikely that they would be deployed and of course the United States would not respond with chemical or biological weapons. In the past, the United States has shown that it is unwilling to intervene to prevent the use of chemical weapons against civilians, as we have seen in Iraq or Syria.
What role does nuclear deterrence play here?
- Nuclear weapons are important, but we must distinguish between immediate and extended deterrence functions.
Nuclear weapons are important in this scenario because we are in a situation of extended deterrence. International relations scholars distinguish between immediate deterrence and extended deterrence.
Immediate deterrence basically means that I will use nukes against you if you use them against me. Throughout the Cold War, both sides adopted a posture of mutually assured destructionwhich meant that one could be fairly certain that nuclear weapons would not be used because a nuclear exchange would have been disastrous for both sides.
“A decisive victory for Russia seems impossible at this stage.
Extended deterrence is a bit more problematic. Extended deterrence means that I will use nukes to defend my ally or to defend a specific objective.
For example, Russia announced an expanded nuclear deterrence strategy to protect Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, while the United States threatened to expand nuclear deterrence to defend Western Europe from a possible Soviet attack during the Cold War. The Soviet Union never really intended to attack Western Europe, but it was the centerpiece of American strategic doctrine for 45 years.
Under what circumstances could Putin use nuclear weapons?
- If NATO partners sent air forces to Ukraine, Putin could use nuclear weapons.
Calculation: Putin uses the idea of extended deterrence to prevent the United States from intervening in a conventional war in Ukraine, and he indicated that if NATO intervened by sending its air forces to Ukraine, the response would be nuclear.
The NATO Air Force is so much more powerful than Russia that NATO would quickly prevail and Russia would have no chance of winning the war under these circumstances. It would be so disastrous for Putin that he would probably escalate into nuclear war to prevent it. The answer would likely take the form of nuclear attacks on NATO air bases in Poland and Romania, and possibly other European countries.
This is why sending NATO planes has not been considered for NATO, because it seems credible that Putin is ready to escalate. Why? Because he was willing to risk the invasion in the first place. He chose to put himself in a position where if we intervene he loses, and probably loses everything, not just Ukraine, but his regime, maybe his life.
If Putin is willing to risk that much, it seems likely that he has already decided that he is ready to take the next logical step, which would be nuclear war. He probably calculates that such a war could be limited, but of course that’s an experiment no one wants to conduct.
Rochester explains: Ukraine and Russia
Why does Russia want Ukraine?
Political scientist Hein Goemans, a Rochester expert on international conflicts, explains why Ukraine’s fate could be tied to Putin’s survival.
How to end the war in Ukraine
Rochester political scientist Hein Goemans, an end-of-war expert, applies possible scenarios to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.