Rajat Sharma

Ukraine: Putin may not opt for a nuclear war

rajat-sir With the war in Ukraine now taking frightening proportions, Russian army has captured the Black Sea port of Kherson, one of the strategic cities in southern Ukraine, while capital Kiev and Kharkiv are being bombed by Russian forces. Russian fighter jets, bombers and missiles have changed the face of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city.

More than one million refugees have fled Ukraine, according to United Nations Human Rights Commission. The beautiful city buildings in Kharkiv have been converted into ruins, as Russian forces rained missiles and bombs on the city. Russian fighters and bombers blew up a TV tower in Kyiv and bombed the historic Babyn Yar Jewish Holocaust Memorial, erected to commemorate the millions of Jews murdered by Hitler during World War 2.

Russian forces have taken control of Balakliya, a town near Kharkiv, after heavy fighting. Kharkiv has become a ghost city with many of its residents either having fled, or hiding in subways or basements to protect themselves. “There is not a single place in Kharkiv where shells have not struck”, said an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister.

Markets, high-rise buildings and residential areas in Kharkiv have been bombed heavily, even as Russian artillery, along with a long line of tanks, assembled outside capital Kyiv to launch a decisive assault. There are still dozens of families hiding in the underground metro in Kyiv.

Till now, more than 350 civilians, including 14 children have been killed Russian bombing, Ukrainian officials said. But, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, hundreds, if not thousands of people have been either killed or wounded in Ukraine. The Mayor of Mariupol city in Ukraine said, Wednesday was the hardest and cruellest of the seven days of this war.

Over 9,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the start of the invasion, according to an adviser of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Hundreds of Russian soldiers, including officers, have been taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces. 217 Russian tanks, 900 armoured personnel carriers, 90 artillery pieces, 30 aircraft, 31 helicopters have been destroyed, claims the Ukrainian army.

On Wednesday, the 193-member UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution reprimanding Russia over the invasion and demanding that Moscow must stop fighting and withdraw its forces from Ukraine. 141 countries voted in favour, five countries voted against and 35 countries, including India, China and Pakistan, abstained. India reiterated that “there is no choice but to return back to the path of diplomacy and dialogue”. Russia was joined by North Korea, Eritrea, Belarus and Syria, in voting against the resolution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on phone on Wednesday night and requested him to ensure the safe evacuation of all Indian nationals trapped inside Ukraine. India’s External Affairs Ministry says, nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have already left Ukraine, more than 3,500 Indians have been evacuated by air, and 15 more evacuation flights will bring back more Indians in the next 24 hours. Not a single Indian national is now left in capital Kiev, according to MEA officials.

On Wednesday, Russia gave more than six hours of safe passage for Indian nationals to leave Kharkiv, hours before Prime Minister Modi spoke to Putin. The Indian Embassy, in an advisory, asked all Indian nationals to rush to three identified locations away from Kharkiv city. In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed videos of Indian students desperately trying to board trains to leave Kharkiv, but were not being allowed by local authorities.

On one hand, the Ukrainian President is alleging that Russia is trying to massacre its nationals, but on the other hand, his officials are resorting to racist tactics by trying to prevent Indian citizens from boarding trains. In the videos, many Indian students alleged that Ukrainian soldiers were threatening to shoot them, if they tried to board the trains, many of which had empty seats. One Indian student said, Ukrainian soldiers are not allowing Asians and Africans to board the trains. Many of the Indian students then started to walk on foot from the railway station, in order to protect their lives.

In the unequal war between Ukraine and Russia, the invaders have the upper hand. While the Ukrainian army may claim that it has caused heavy casualties to Russian forces, it lacks weapons, fighter jets and missiles. The Russian air force is in complete command over the Ukrainian air space, and has nearly destroyed the Ukrainian air force.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that if a Third World War takes place, it will be fought with nuclear weapons, which could be destructive. Lavrov said, Russia will face “a real danger” if Ukraine acquires nuclear weapons.

On Thursday, he however said, “Nuclear war is not in the heads of Russians, it is being floated by Western politicians. Our mission is to get rid of Nazis in Ukraine. NATO and Ukraine are talking of possibility of nuclear war, not Russia. I am certain, plans are being prepared to wage a war against Russia. The United States subjugated Europe, like Napoleon or Hitler did, during their time.” Only three days ago, Putin had ordered his Strategic Forces to keep the nuclear deterrent ready.

Russian threats about a nuclear war cannot be taken lightly. This can cause concerns all over the world. Russia presently has the largest number of nuclear weapons (6,255) in its stockpile, while the US has 5,550 nuclear weapons. Defence experts say that Russia is raising the spectre of nuclear war in order to put pressure on the West. Putin is angry over EU countries sending large quantity of weapons to Ukraine to fight its war. Russia considers this as a provocative act.

While Russia may be having an upper hand in the ongoing war in Ukraine, its economy has come under severe strain, after the US and the West have clamped severe economic sanctions. The Russian currency Rouble has touched its nadir since the Second World War. On Wednesday, the rouble was down at 117 roubles to a US dollar.

Several top Russian companies are headed towards disaster. Russian stock exchange is closed since last three days, as shares across the table slumped to a low. The five top Russian billionaire oligarchs will be affected badly if the war in Ukraine continues. This is going to have a bandwagon effect. Since Russia is the biggest exporter of crude and natural gas, the world is staring at a huge scarcity of these fuels. Rise in prices of fuel will lead to exorbitant rise in prices of all consumer products.

Russian President Putin may well have activated his Nuclear Strategic Forces Command, but I personally feel, that he will not take the world to the brink of disaster. He knows the consequences of using a nuclear weapon. It is also true that Putin never dreamt that Ukraine will resist the Russian army attack so viciously. He had expected to occupy Ukraine within three days, but it never expected such a stiff resistance.

The war has entered the seventh day and the Russian army is yet to take Kiev. However, judging by the fire power of both the armies, Russia seems to have an upper hand, and it may capture Kiev soon. After taking Kiev, the Russian forces will surely spread out to occupy the rest of Ukraine. So, as of now, there is little possibility of a nuclear war taking place.

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