Russia may be preparing to move on Ukraine as Putin warns world leaders not to interfere.

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Σότσι — Συνάντηση με τον Πρόεδρο της Ρωσικής Ομοσπονδίας Vladimir Putin. December 9, 2021. (photo: ΝΕΑ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ)

“The military political situation in the world remains complicated, with increased conflict potential and new seats of tension in several regions,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week in a worrying address to Russia’s Defense Ministry Board. “In particular, the growth of the US and NATO military forces in direct proximity to the Russian border and major military drills, including unscheduled ones, are a cause for concern.”

“It is extremely alarming that elements of the US global defense system are being deployed near Russia,” Putin continued. “The Mk 41 launchers, which are located in Romania and are to be deployed in Poland, are adapted for launching the Tomahawk strike missiles. If this infrastructure continues to move forward, and if US and NATO missile systems are deployed in Ukraine, their flight time to Moscow will be only 7–10 minutes, or even five minutes for hypersonic systems.”

“Naturally, as I have already noted, if our Western colleagues continue their obviously aggressive line, we will take appropriate military-technical reciprocal measures and will have a tough response to their unfriendly steps,” Putin promised ominously.

Putin’s speech and the actions of the Russian military over the past few months are giving foreign policy experts heart palpitations this week. Half of the world’s international policy apparatus suddenly seems to think Putin may soon invade Ukraine; the other half think he already has.

The Russian President’s Tuesday speech certainly didn’t include season’s greetings or wishes for a happy New Year. Threats were implicit.

What is the point of publicly saying, “effective operational algorithms should be established at all levels, and advanced automatic systems should also be introduced,” if not to remind the world what will happen should the U.S. attack Russia with nuclear weapons.

MAD: Mutually assured destruction.

Fear of mutually assured destruction is what kept the Cold War from turning into a hot one, and what we hope we will prevent any future world wars. It is a tenuous hope, promulgated on the flimsy threat of a dead man’s switch and the somewhat stronger one of our shared survival instinct.

“However hard you hit us,” Putin is telling any would-be future aggressors; “we will hit back even harder, even if you get us all.”

Nor is Russia a nation to trifle with. It is commonly believed the U.S. and its closest allies won World War II. This isn’t exactly true; it was Russian soldiers who broke the German army, which was as close to unstoppable as the world should ever have to see. It was Russian soldiers who found and liberated the first concentration camps.

Russia paid dearly for its “victory”, if indeed there are any victors in war. The U.S. lost 407,300 soldiers, 12,000 civilians. The U.K. lost 383,700 soldiers and 67,200 civilians. France lost 210,000 soldiers, 390,000 civilians.

Russia lost 26 million people; 11 million of them soldiers.

The willingness of the Russian army to break itself against Hitler’s unstoppable forces proved the difference between victory and defeat. An unwillingness to face the formidable Russian army in hot conflict was one of the many good reasons the Cold War stayed blessedly cold all those many decades of simmering tensions.

An unwillingness to face, “an armed American behind every blade of grass,” is what famously kept Japan’s forces from invading the U.S. in WW2.

In all the abstractions about Donald Trump, we forget wartime President Harry S. Truman and his terrible twin sons Fat Man and Little Boy. Two energy weapons, two heavily populated cities, 120,000 people killed instantly, thousands more later in the fallout.

The line of U.S. military thinking at the time was the same one that’s been driving the arms race since the hand axe got a handle; get better weapons first- before your enemy does.

“To go easy on your enemy in war,” goes another common line of military thinking, “is not an act of mercy- because it prolongs the conflict.”

“War is hell,” as Churchill famously declared.

Given this indisputable truth, ending a war quickly is considered by many military minds to be the most merciful course of action. As a result, they show no mercy, give no quarter, and terrify the enemy with acts of brutality so savage as to undermine any willingness to continue fighting.

The whole cosmetic surgery industry was born from this abhorrent wartime notion. The most terrible weapons of the last two world wars weren’t designed to kill quickly; on the contrary.

Shrapnel weapons, land mines and other explosive devices were intentionally designed to grievously wound. The idea- that countries at war would have to see their soldiers return without limbs, or missing half their faces and wouldn’t want to keep fighting- is a diabolical one.

Most of us react with understandable horror to this bit of 1984-speak: “Brutality is mercy.”

Thanks to Truman, the undisputed king of all brutal wartime acts, the U.S. remains the only nation to ever deploy nuclear weapons in war.

That act remains a sword of Damocles hanging above the head of the U.S. Those who live by the sword, do have a tendency to die by it. The consequences of one generation’s actions- i.e. dropping nuclear bombs on two cities full of civilians- tend to have consequences for the next.

And the next.

After Truman and the Manhattan Project, all threats of war are threats of nuclear war; and no threats of nuclear war are idle.

Will another country, or indeed some group or faction, eventually use nuclear weapons again?

The chances seem too good for anyone’s liking.

Faced with the prospect of another world-wide nuclear war, world powers might decide the Ukraine is a necessary sacrifice should Putin choose to “annex” it by force.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)