Putin’s Grand Ambitions and NATO’s Crisis of Nuclear Credibility

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The invasion of Ukraine, and the rhetoric surrounding it, has revealed the scope of Vladimir Putin’s grand ambitions: He wishes to reconstitute as much of the old Russian/Soviet empire in Eastern Europe as he can. The delegitimization of Ukraine has thrown into doubt the legitimacy of former Soviet republics Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia and even neighboring states such as Finland and Poland. Putin regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and laments that it caused “tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen to live beyond the fringes of Russian territory.” Putin feels that in order to be secure, Russia needs to revise the current balance of power in Europe. This ambition is consistent with scholarship that explains Russian foreign policy as a product of Putin’s illiberal, conservative philosophy and Putin’s desire to develop a Russian sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space.

Putin has demanded that Ukraine declare neutrality. Is neutrality a trap for Ukraine?

In the long run, the best way for NATO to deter him is to have enough conventional forces in Eastern Europe to deny Russia the ability to take the territory of countries such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. But NATO does not have the capability to do this at the moment, and it will take time to develop it. In the intervening “window of vulnerability,” the American extended nuclear deterrent and NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons will form the backbone of European security. The best way to ensure the credibility of this deterrent depends, in turn, on the outcome of the current war. If, as appears likely, Russia gets bogged down in a long drawn-out fight in Ukraine, it may have an incentive to expand the conflict by attacking an Eastern European NATO country. To deter this, the United States and NATO should increase the credibility of their nuclear deterrent by embracing a moderate form of the brinkmanship tactics articulated by an earlier generation of nuclear strategists. This would entail altering America’s and NATO’s nuclear posture such that it threatens to use its nuclear weapons earlier in a conflict. This solution is not ideal and should only be regarded as a short-term fix, but European security today requires NATO to accept a degree of brinkmanship. More here.

Is Neutrality a Trap for Ukraine?

Putin has demanded that Ukraine declare neutrality and demilitarize. He wants to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic future, Natia Seskuria writes in Foreign Policy. “Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have not gone far. Putin’s goal isn’t halting NATO enlargement…