By Paul Goble
In three speeches this week, Vladimir Putin has publicly repudiated the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that kept the Soviets and the Americans from attacking the other out of the belief that any such attack would lead to the destruction of the country which launched it, Aleksandr Skobov says.
The clear meaning of Putin’s talk about the increasing risk of a nuclear war is that he believes, the Russian commentator says, that “the American can decapitate us by a first strike” and thus “we can decapitate them if we strike first. And what we can do, we must do” (graniru.org/opinion/skobov/m.286925.html).
Two days after first making such suggestions by indirection, Putin said directly that he was considering including in Russia’s military doctrine the possibility of a decapitating nuclear strike, arguing that the Americans have already done that and so Russia must counter by doing so as well.
Some may be tempted to argue that Putin is only further raising the stakes to try to intimidate the West. Earlier, he threatened the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and so it is natural for him to threaten something even worse, Skobov continues. But they are wrong because Putin is not a rational actor.
The Kremlin leader’s words in the more likely interpretation that he is not “a cold and prudent cynic” but something else and that “he really believes in ‘a disarming strike,’” in which he will “kill everyone else but he will remain.” Such an obsession has haunted him for years and is why he talks so much about nuclear weapons. “He really wants to try to do this,” Skobov says.
But if that is so and the evidence is mounting that this is the case, the commentator continues, then Putin is “just a maniac in the medical sense.” How can the West neutralize him? That is no small challenge, “but one thing is clear concessions won’t stop” someone who has rejected the doctrine that has prevented the outbreak of a nuclear war for more than 70 years.