Sunday, January 1

The Nuclear Elephant in the Room

So that's the end of 2022!

What a year. At the beginning of the year I was in Ukraine. I remember walking back in -20°C temperatures after an evening of celebration with friends who lived in Zhytomyr and asking them what they thought about the stories of Russian forces accumulating on the Eastern border. They either didn't believe there would be an invasion or, if they did, were not very bothered about it.

A few months later we were sending them money to repair their house after missiles had damaged it. Their wives and daughters had gone to Finland. Finland and Sweden had applied to join NATO, although everyone seemed a bit relieved that Ukraine wasn't a member. That meant we could all sit and watch and say how terrible it all was but not actually do a great deal to prevent Russian troops doing whatever they wanted in Ukraine.

The United States, United Kingdom and a few other countries did eventually send some weapons and useful equipment but it has only ever been enough to prevent Russia taking much by way of territory. It did not prevent dreadful killing in towns that will become famous when war crime trials begin in years to come, not the devastation of huge swathes of Ukraine in the south and east. There is now a sense of deadlock and all Russia seems able to do is fire increasingly ancient missiles at key infrastructure targets so damaging electricity supplies and water provision. 

Experts' views as to what will happen in 2023 vary from the optimistic one of Ukraine slowly pushing Russian troops back to the original borders, some even suggesting they might take back 2014's loss of Crimea, to those who expect to see little change, an advance or two here, a setback there with Russia unwilling to settle for anything less than achieving what they intended at the start, the domination of the whole of Ukraine and being content to keep throwing whatever troops or missiles were necessary to do so. Ukraine gets continued equipment-only support from the West which is sufficient to allow people to cope but there's no let-up in fighting in the disputed areas.

No-one has predicted, however, the other outcome. The one where Russia wins. The one where they use a modest but effective nuclear device and blast a complete town away, kill a million people and suggest that tomorrow it'll be another town unless Zelensky surrenders. Enola Gay above Vinnitsa but with a Z insignia instead of the girl.

We would all hold our hands up and say how wrong it was and how terrible we feel about it but, seriously, would we actually do anything even then?

Those of us who have friends and relatives in Ukraine would say, without a doubt, "Yes, it's time to get involved. The bullies have to be stopped. We're going in, maybe even starting by taking out some of Russia's missile bases and being offensive at the start rather than messing around on the defensive only. Putin needs to know we're not going to take any more. The line's been crossed."

There are, however, rather greater majorities everywhere of people who don't know anyone in Ukraine and, whilst, yes, it's a bit sad that they're getting nuked and it's all bad stuff, their view is that if their country gets involved then they're putting their friends at risk. "If we go in and kill Russians then they'll fire stuff at us and bye bye Birmingham," I can imagine someone saying. OK, I've never liked Birmingham but I still wouldn't want it nuked or even blasted by non-nuclear devices. Governments simply are not going to respond in kind, whatever Joe Biden might have said.

Things will be appallingly messy. Zelensky may well not give in but, with what would inevitably be more equipment, maybe even some air support at last because we all feel so bad about what has happened, feels that he has to fight on and take the loss. The Ukrainian people won't give in, even if Russia carries on and flattens every town. Those that survive will hide and wait for a chance to regroup and fight back in small pockets of resistance here and there but their country will largely have ceased to exist. There will be little for all those who left to go back to. Eventually, it would have to be accepted that Ukraine will be a land of much toxic soil and for a decade or two something of a wasteland. Russia will claim it as Russian territory but no international bodies will recognise that and Russia becomes regarded and treated much as North Korea is, mostly ignored and regarded as irrelevant to any future trade or development by anyone other than North Korea and, no doubt, some Africa states of dubious decency.

We'll be talking about it for years to come, debating how we might have avoided it, what we should have done next and so forth. Someone may try and take out Putin or he just gets removed quietly by others who, whilst supporting the initial plan, are not particularly happy about their newfound position of little value or influence in the international community. Even if he just dies naturally there'll be another to take his place and there's not going to be any big change there for a while.

I'm quite glad no-one has predicted that one. It is, though, the Elephant in the Room, isn't it? We know that it has been recommended as action by some of the more impatient and uncaring of Putin's advisers. Provided that he doesn't cause any collateral damage to a NATO member then we will not respond in kind. So Putin can throw more or less what he likes at Ukraine and no-one, no-one is going to hit him back.

Except, that is Ukraine. And that brings me to suggest my own idea of how this could turn out: we rapidly provide Ukraine with a whole load of long-range missiles of all shapes and sizes, and the facilities to fire them and manage them effectively, which Russia would have to admit could cause some serious damage to some of their towns and cities. This might just, possibly only just but it's worth a try, stop the bully as it would mean, for the first time, he might get seriously wounded rather than just losing old equipment and idiot backwater town recruits should he attempt to make such a move. Indeed, I would advocate that Ukraine would be perfectly justified in demolishing Rostov-on-Don now as they've already had Mariupol and several other towns flattened anyway. I hope they don't as I have friends who live there but I can totally accept that, after holding back from killing Russian civilians for a year whilst Russia gaily murders and rapes Ukrainian men, women and kids, there are limits to such restraint. One more bad move by Putin could break that resolve of the Ukrainian military leaders to stay 'good'. And we should give them whatever they need now.

That ought to ensure Putin does not go nuclear or throw his toys out of the pram and devastate even more of Ukraine by some other means.

It's not an ending but I believe it would accelerate a change of attitude in Russia, even amongst the people there who might finally get to know the real truth of what's been done in their name. Indeed, I would strongly advocate that we also use all our technical expertise to get the truth out to the Russians. Can't we take over their broadcasts or hack into their internet and provide free access to the world's sites so they can see what everyone else is saying outside China and North Korea and those few states in Africa.

Perhaps some will even be able to read this and appreciate the frustration of many of us here in Britain at how even reasonably intelligent Russians appear to be so easily controlled.

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