Friday, March 2, 2018 at 7:38 AM

Putin Hyping Nukes to Look Strong? That’s Weak

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

The world had come to expect only North Korean President Kim Jong-un to bluster about nuclear strikes. Then came US President Donald Trump blustering about raining down nuclear “fire and fury.” And now comes Russian President Vladimir Putin blustering about this:

Russia has tested an array of new strategic nuclear weapons that can’t be intercepted, President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday. …

‘I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: all what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened,’ he said.

(Associated Press, March 1, 2018)

No doubt Putin is hoping to emulate the apocalyptic zeitgeist that makes North Koreans worship Jong-un as their one and only savior. His immediate intent, though, is to provide Russians a jingoistic pretext to vote for him in this month’s presidential election.

Of course, everyone knows Putin will win, especially after perfecting election rigging with his infamous meddling in the United States. But more than a few Russians must be wondering why Putin is aiming this nuclear rhetoric squarely at the United States. After all, the whole point of that rigging was to get Donald Trump elected, and then prevail upon him to not just lift economic sanctions but make America Russia’s BFF. Rigger’s remorse…? I digress.

It is axiomatic that insecurities about real weaknesses compel strongmen to boast about coveted strengths. But, in making his announcement, Putin unwittingly betrayed his weakness by using animated video instead of test video to reinforce his boast. Even worse, the animation looked like it was pirated from a North Korean propaganda studio.

Whatever the case, even if it managed to advance nuclear developments by leaps and bounds, Russia is still about as “invincible” as the Titanic was unsinkable.

Mind you, the Putin making these feckless and retrograde boasts today is the same Putin who made this provocative and visionary prediction just months ago:

Artificial intelligence [AI] is the future, not only of Russia, but of all of mankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.

(CNN, September 5, 2017)

As it happens, this betrays his weakness as well. After all, given that prediction, Putin would clearly have preferred to be announcing strategic advances in AI, instead of thumping his chest about another nuclear arms race.

Apropos of this, it bears reminding that the Soviet Union lost the first nuclear arms race because it invested so much in becoming a first-rate nuclear power, it could only afford to develop a third-rate economy. And, when even that proved unsustainable, it was forced to surrender that Cold War to the United States.

Which compels me to share this famous quote by George Santayana:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Sure enough, just like his Soviet predecessors, Putin is sacrificing Russia’s economic development to (re)claim an international sphere of influence. This has seen him launch military adventures everywhere from neighboring Georgia (South Ossetia, Abkhazia) and Ukraine (Crimea) to faraway places like Syria. Not to mention the infamous cyberwarfare he has been waging against Western democracies, which I referenced above.

Yet all Putin has to show for all that is a continuing barrage of retaliatory sanctions, which has Russia’s economy looking these days more like North Korea’s than any in Europe. Indeed, this is why US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously dismissed Putin’s Russia in a March 16, 2014, interview on CNN as “a gas station masquerading as a country.”

Except of course for Russia’s indispensable, existential stockpile of nuclear weapons. But everyone knows those weapons remain as much of a poisoned chalice today as they were during the Cold War.

Because, despite his “invincible” bluster, Putin would never dare attack any Western country, let alone the United States. And this is so for the same apocalyptic reason why, despite his “fire and fury” bluster, Trump would never dare attack even a fledgling nuclear power like North Korea. That long-established reason is the capacity of any country to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike.

This doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) prevented a first strike during the first Cold War. And, despite all the fashionable blustering about using nukes, it will prevent the same during this one. Well, that is unless a terrorist group manages to procure them. And, with the mercenary aid of countries like North Korea and Pakistan, this is forebodingly likely.

The point is that the only purpose Putin’s nuclear announcement could possibly serve is to feed his people illusions of military power to distract them from the realities of worsening economic distress. Let them eat nukes…?

In other words, Putin is resorting to the same Orwellian “Big-Brother” tactics North Korean leaders have used for decades to retain power. But, if he thinks aping Kim Jong-un makes him look strong, he’s not just weak but mad to boot.

Alas, Putin had the hammer thrower, Alexei Navalny, thrown in jail again.

Related commentaries:
Sanctioned Russia
Money-pit military budgeting
Ukraine
Russia regional bully
Crimea
Syria
Fire and fury

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