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Putin’s threat to press the nuclear button cannot be dismissed

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President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses the Russian nation yesterday. Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service / AP

President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses the Russian nation yesterday. Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service / AP

President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses the Russian nation yesterday. Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service / AP

An embattled Vladimir Putin suddenly looks like an increasingly dangerous man who could wreak havoc in our daily lives. He has raised the stakes in his illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, a move that suggests Russia is losing and therefore prepared to resort to more extreme methods – including the use of nuclear weapons in war for the first time since 1945.

The Russian president yesterday announced the mobilisation of 300,000 military reservists to bolster his struggling invasion of pro-western neighbour Ukraine, which has asserted its independence since the old Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.

When the invasion of Ukraine began last February 24, Putin raised the alert level for Russian nuclear personnel, but not to the highest level. He has also previously warned countries supporting Ukraine that “there could be consequences you have never seen”.

He warned the world again, yesterday, about the nuclear prospects.

“Russia will use all the instruments at its disposal to counter a threat against its territorial integrity – this is not a bluff,” he.

The experts’ working assumption had been that Russia would use nuclear weapons in a conventional war only if there were a real threat to the country’s existence. Putin appears now to be trying to provoke such a situation, working with allies in areas of Ukraine already occupied by Russian forces to integrate these territories totally into “the old mother country” via bogus referendums.

During his televised address, Putin also alleged, without proof, that Nato officials had already said nuclear strikes against Russia in this conflict would be acceptable. It is worth remembering that Putin, as an autocratic ruler, has the sole decision-making powers over Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. Seasoned observers suggest his words should be taken seriously.

This grave twist in an already difficult situation means all Ukraine’s supporters – including Ireland – must steel their nerves and continue to stand resolutely with Kyiv.

It was heartening to hear Taoiseach Micheál Martin stress the need for continued EU unity. Ireland’s role in all of this is small, but it remains important at a time when this country has a seat on the United Nations Security Council and holds the six-month presidency of the Council of Europe, which groups 46 nations.

Last week, the Council of Europe took the first steps in acting on a Ukrainian request to move toward a war crimes investigation into the Russian military in Ukraine.

The loud voices of condemnation from across Europe and the wider western world, led by US president Joe Biden, will be consolation to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose forces are succeeding in pushing back the Russian invaders.

On the Russian home front, all eyes will be on domestic public reaction to an effective admission by Putin that his war is not going well.

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