There is growing concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid crippling financial sanctions in response to his invasion of Ukraine, which doesn’t appear to be going as planned, may feel as though he’s been backed into a corner and decide to dramatically escalate the already deadly and destructive military conflict.
If that is the case, that Putin feels his back is against a wall and his options are growing limited, he could decide to “lash out” with the indiscriminate bombing of Ukrainian civilians, a direct attack against his NATO enemies, or even potentially resort to the use of nuclear weapons, the New York Post reported.
Such was the assessment of Harry Kazianis, senior director of the Center for the National Interest, who penned the Post article based on observations of Putin’s escalatory aggression in prior military conflicts in other regions over the past two decades.
History of horrific attacks on civilian populations
First, in response to a separatist uprising in Chenya in 1999-2000, Putin employed particularly brutal means to crush that rebellion and, in the process, killed thousands of civilians as he virtually razzed the major city of Grozny to the ground with an unrelenting campaign of aerial bombardment and artillery shelling.
It was a similar story in 2008 as Putin’s Russian forces crushed the anti-Russian opposition in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, as well as more recently with the Russian intervention in Syria on behalf of the besieged Assad regime.
In Syria particularly, Kazianis noted, Putin’s Air Forces bombed numerous Syrian cities into little more than smoldering piles of rubble, killing thousands and setting loose a swarm of millions of refugees that flooded into Europe.
Breaking out the same “playbook” as before
Now it looks like that same sort of playbook is on the verge of being deployed in Ukraine, and Kazianis pondered in conclusion, “What happens when a nuclear-armed dictator with the ability to literally destroy civilization in 30 minutes is backed into a corner he doesn’t see a way out of? Pray to God we don’t have to find out.”
Kazianis is not alone in that assessment, as a similar account was shared last week by Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall during a live report from Ukraine about the recent uptick at that time of airstrikes, artillery shelling, and missile strikes against major cities and civilian areas in the embattled country.
“What is most likely to enrage Vladimir Putin is a sense that this is not going how he wanted, and if he finds himself backed into a corner, he’s going to do what we’ve seen him do over the last day or two, and that is bring out the heavy artillery and hit the people,” Hall said. “He’s done it before — he did it in Chechnya. It is a playbook of his. When he’s not doing well, he doubles down.”
Not an “unhinged” “madman,” but still a “rational” and “ruthless” threat with nuclear weapons
Of course, while such drastic considerations may seem insane in the West, Business Insider recently interviewed several national security veterans who explicitly warned against an emerging narrative that Putin was “unhinged” or a “madman” bent on civilizational destruction. Instead, the Russian leader was described as “rational, consistent, and ruthless.”
That said, former deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin cautioned that Putin was “under great stress” because “The invasion of Ukraine is not going well, the Ukrainians are fighting back, there is protest at home, and Russia has just been slammed with the strongest package of economic sanctions in modern history,” and, “Putin has to feel things closing in on him.”
Given all of that, “there is a greater chance that desperation will drive him to some reckless decisions,” McLaughlin added. “That’s a worry with someone who has nuclear weapons.”