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So many times, I’ve thought: “Putin would never do this.” Then he goes and does it.
“He’d never annex Crimea, surely?” He did.
“He’d never start a war in the Donbas.” He did.
“He’d never launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.” He has.
The phrase “would never do” doesn’t seem to apply to Vladimir Putin.
And that raises an uncomfortable question: “He’d never press the nuclear button first…. would he?”
It’s not a theoretical question. Russia’s leader has just put his country’s nuclear forces on “special” alert, complaining of “aggressive statements” over Ukraine by Nato leaders.
When he announced on TV his “special military operation”, he delivered a chilling warning: “To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside – if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history.”
“Putin’s words sound like a direct threat of nuclear war,” says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, chief editor of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
“This is a threat that if Russia isn’t treated as he wants, then everything will be destroyed”.
If Putin did choose a nuclear option, would anyone in his close circle try to dissuade him? Or stop him?
“Russia’s political elites are never with the people,” says Muratov. “They always take the side of the ruler.”
And in Putin’s Russia the ruler is all-powerful.