Putin’s Attempts Of Nuclear Blackmail Are Being Stonewalled By U.S. And China

The missile, which landed in eastern Polish farmland on November 15, killing two people and injuring three, caused a sharp international crisis, which Warsaw handled with due care and the utmost responsibility. Had the stray projectile been a Russian sea-launched Kalibr or an air-launched Kh-555, this would have been the first enemy attack on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) territory. Therefore, every possible source of data was included in the quick investigation, which revealed that it was in fact a misguided S-300 surface-to-air missile fired by Ukrainian forces to intercept the massive Russian missile attack on civilian infrastructure ( Meduza, November 2018). 17). The Russian Defense Ministry escalated tensions by describing the incident as a "deliberate provocation". But the crisis was defused nonetheless when NATO allies agreed to ultimately blame Moscow for the tragic accident caused by Russia's brutal airstrike (Kommersant, November 16). The Kremlin could have breathed a sigh of relief, but the immediately coordinated and impeccably precise NATO response warns sternly against any attempts to escalate the war.
That warning apparently got through to Moscow in some form, and Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's longtime spokesman, assured that no one in Russia is talking about nuclear weapons (RIA Novosti, November 17). While patently false, the statement fits a pattern of tapering off Russia's bombastic nuclear rhetoric that has become increasingly explicit in recent weeks (Russiancouncil.ru, November 7). William J. Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and one of the most experienced US negotiators, impressed Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia's foreign intelligence agency, at their recent face-to-face meeting in Ankara, Turkey, to brag irresponsibly about the risks involved with nuclear strikes (Kommersant, 14th November). Naryshkin, who was publicly humiliated by Putin at the televised Russian Security Council meeting on the eve of the Russian invasion, may not be the most reliable person to talk to. Nonetheless, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has remained up to date in his communications with Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Putin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov (Current Time, November 7).
The Kherson withdrawal, bitterly lamented by the noisy community of Russian “patriotic” bloggers, could have prompted Moscow to stage some nuclear demonstrations, but none took place (Svobodnaya pressa, November 14). The situation around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant has remained relatively calm (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 7). The International Atomic Energy Agency urged Russia to withdraw troops from this facility, notably releasing a report confirming the lack of any preparations in Ukraine for the detonation of a "dirty bomb," a bogus threat the Kremlin had tried to reinforce ( The Insider, November 3; RIA Novosti, November 18). Many Russian mainstream media platforms were eagerly spreading Western news about a possible test of the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone in the Barents Sea, but the K-329 Belgorod (Oscar II class) nuclear submarine, which was modernized to transport this drone, apparently returned to the base two weeks ago without completing the high-profile task (Topwar.ru, November 10).
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This uncharacteristic self-restraint is caused not only by repeated US warnings about the serious consequences of nuclear brinksmanship, but also by China's increasingly pronounced negative attitude towards the Kremlin's ability to escalate the war against Ukraine beyond the nuclear threshold. Moscow had expected Beijing to emphasize global South reservations about the Western stance on supporting Ukraine at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, but Russia's main strategic partner opted for a more flexible position (Novayagazeta.eu, March 18, 2009). November). The final statement noted that some states differed from the majority opinion, which condemned Russian aggression but unequivocally stated that the threat to use nuclear weapons was unacceptable (Kommersant, November 16).
The central event of the Bali summit was the three-hour meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. While the two official statements on the content of the discussion differed in some important details, the common rejection of a nuclear escalation was clear (Svoboda, November 15). Xi is keen to assert China's status as a power on par with the United States and seeks to protect his reputation as a responsible actor in the world order from the risk of being too closely associated with troubled Russia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta , 15th of November).
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Significantly, Russia's foreign ministry has refused to criticize North Korea's recent series of missile tests, instead implying that Washington and its allies are "testing Pyongyang's patience" (RIA Novosti, November 18). This anti-American solidarity is underpinned by North Korea's munitions exports badly needed by Russian artillery, but amounts to implicit Moscow support for a likely nuclear test by the rogue regime of Kim Jong-un, sure to aggravate the ongoing security crisis in East Asia (Kommersant, November 18; Izvestia, October 25).
Another element of intrigue in Russian nuclear diplomacy centers on Iran, which has become a major supplier of, among other things, Shahed-136 drones used by Russian forces as a force multiplier for missile attacks on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure (Tsargrad.tv, 7.11. ). It is unclear what Russia will provide in return for this illegal export. Still, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are concerned about Iran's boast of hypersonic missiles, which has increased after Patrushev's recent visit to Tehran (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 13). Moscow remains formally opposed to arming Iran's nuclear program, but the failure of multiparty talks on reshaping the UN-approved deal, which was annulled by the US in 2018, serves Russian interests well (Kommersant, November 11).
Russia is positioning itself as an advocate for dismantling the Western-dominated world order, and the nuclear non-proliferation regime is a key pillar of this ever-evolving order. A strike from a non-strategic nuclear warhead may not make much difference on the sparsely populated Donbass battlefields (although the impact should not be underestimated), but it is sure to severely shake global governance. The re-energised and determined West is using every possible deterrent to prevent the nuclear taboo from being broken. However, this support must also be mobilized in the Global South, which remains ambivalent about the parameters of the war but is absolutely opposed to a nuclear escalation. China may not want Russia defeated, but every word from Beijing about unaccepting nuclear threats adds to the wall blocking Putin's blackmail.
From the Jamestown Foundation
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