The Daily Telegraph

Nuclear blackmail must be resisted


The Ukraine war has entered a new and more dangerous phase with the mobilisati­on of reservists to fill the manpower gaps left by the damage inflicted on the Russian army since February. Vladimir Putin announced the move just as the eastern Ukrainian provinces under Russian control said they would hold referendum­s to demonstrat­e popular support for Moscow rather than Kyiv.

Both are the desperate measures of an increasing­ly beleaguere­d leader whose hopes of a quick and easy victory in Ukraine were shattered weeks ago. Since the former soldiers making up the reserve will not be ready for combat for months, Mr Putin is evidently digging in for a long war with a likely counter-offensive in the spring. By then, however, the Ukrainian army will be better equipped with Nato weapons and far more committed to the defence of their homeland than the aggressor is to its invasion.

Putin may call up more troops but even his elite forces have failed against a determined and wellarmed opponent and there is no reason to believe the attrition will not continue. The big question that Western strategist­s need to answer is what happens when it is apparent to the Kremlin and the Russian people that there is nothing but more misery lying ahead.

Early prediction­s of a coup against Putin have, sadly, come to nought. If anything, the threats to his leadership come from hard-line nationalis­ts who want the war prosecuted with even greater brutality. Moreover, the Kremlin controls the message; and while people know the casualties have been high he is able to use the media to revive the old, but deeply held, Russian grievance that the motherland is under threat from the West.

The fact that this is a prepostero­us assertion does not make it any less compelling in Russia itself, where suffering at the hands of Western powers down the centuries has been mythologis­ed.

At the UN General Assembly, Western leaders lined up to denounce Putin, but they need to be backed by China, India, Turkey and big nonaligned nations who might usually prefer to stay neutral. No one can afford to stand idly by while threats to use nuclear weapons are made. The whole world needs to make it absolutely clear to Putin what the consequenc­es of widening this war will be and prepare for just such a prospect. It is no longer sensible simply to trust that his deranged threat to use nuclear weapons is a bluff.

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