Image credit: Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

November 22, 2022

Is Putin a Rational Actor?

By Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, Jr.

On February 24, as he launched the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the specter of nuclear war. He warned that any outside interference would lead to consequences “never seen in history,” a clear reference to the use of atomic weapons. The prospect of an outright nuclear war with Russia may indeed have convinced NATO member states that their direct involvement in the conflict was too dangerous to countenance. But the war did not follow Putin’s script. Russia’s surprising early struggles on the battlefield, along with Ukraine’s dogged resistance, persuaded many NATO members to send military equipment and supplies to aid the defenders.

Western leaders must try to make Putin realize, as he considers turning to his nuclear arsenal, that there can be no winners in such a conflict.

Putin again invoked nuclear war in April. After his forces retreated from the outskirts of Kyiv and Kharkiv, he declared that Russia would employ nuclear weapons “if necessary” to achieve its aims. With such rhetoric, Putin may have been trying to prevent NATO from boosting its support for Ukraine to levels that would achieve an outright defeat of the Russian invasion. If so, Putin succeeded, and a rough stalemate between the belligerents ensued. Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling quieted during the summer as both sides sought to gain an advantage on the battlefield. In early autumn, having failed to change the military balance in his favor, Putin returned to nuclear threats, declaring that “to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.”

Read the full article from Foreign Affairs.

  • Commentary
    • European Leadership Network
    • January 31, 2023
    European Integration’s New Geopolitical Momentum

    Offering more tangible benefits of accession prior to full membership will both keep candidate countries motivated to continue reforms and allow for a more gradual adjustment ...

    By Nicholas Lokker

  • Podcast
    • January 27, 2023
    The Outlook for Ukraine in 2023

    In the latest installment of our “New Year” series, we take stock of where things stand in Ukraine as we head into 2023. Over the past couple of months, the lines of territori...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Michael Kofman & Lawrence D. Freedman

  • Podcast
    • January 25, 2023
    Germany Agrees to Send Leopard Tanks to Ukraine

    Adjunct Senior Fellow Jeffrey Edmonds joins Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd to discuss Germany's decision to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Listen to the full interview from WBUR....

    By Jeffrey Edmonds

  • Podcast
    • January 25, 2023
    Jim Townsend on Ukraine Russia Conflict & Military Aid from NATO via Tanks

    Russia’s spring offensive could come out of Belarus, explains Jim Townsend, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO. Listen to the interview and more from...

    By Jim Townsend

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia