Like rabbits mesmerised by the antics of a predatory stoat, Western nations watch Vladimir Putin perform a sequence of manoeuvres that brings him ever closer to the use of nuclear weapons, while they behave like interested, but passive, spectators. The chilling reality is that the war in Ukraine is heading into a death spin that nobody seems to have the will, the intellect or the initiative to halt.
“I don’t think Putin will use nuclear weapons” is the mantra with which people in Ukraine and the West try to reassure themselves. In the real world, what is that Pollyanna optimism worth? To help assess its validity, try transposing similar wishful thinking in the past (“I don’t think Hitler will invade Czechoslovakia…” “I don’t think Khrushchev will suppress Hungary…”) What anyone in the West thinks, individually or collectively, will have no influence on the actions of Vladimir Putin, except to encourage his aggression.
Consider recent events, to which Putin appears to have responded in a counter-intuitive fashion – anomalous behaviour that sends a sinister signal. Since the Kharkiv counter-offensive, followed now by further Ukrainian successes in Kherson, Putin has been acutely aware he is losing the war. His elite units, such as the 1st Guards Tank Army, have been destroyed. The proportion of experienced professional soldiers among the Russian occupying forces is startlingly low.