Putin's nuclear option

But Putin would never actually use nuclear weapons, would he? The scientist and longtime Putin critic Andrei Piontkovsky, a former executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow a political commentator for the BBC World Service, believes he might. In August, Piontkovsky published a troubling account of what he believes Putin might do to win the current standoff with the West — and, in one blow, destroy NATO as an organization and finish off what’s left of America’s credibility as the world’s guardian of peace.

In view of the Russian leader’s recent remarks and provocative actions, the scenario Piontkovsky lays out becomes terrifyingly relevant. Worse, if the trigger events described come to pass, it becomes logical, maybe even inevitable.

Piontkovsky explains the positions of the two camps presenting Putin with advice about how to resolve the Ukraine crisis. The first, the “Peace Party,” as he calls it, composed of those occupying posts in influential think tanks, including, in this case, Sergey Karaganov, the head of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, urges Putin to declare victory in Ukraine now and thereby end the conflict. Having taken note of the lengths to which Moscow will go to prevent Ukraine from slipping out of its orbit, NATO will almost certainly never invite the former Soviet republic to join its ranks, the Peace Party argues. And Russia has already won tacit acceptance from the international community of its acquisition of Crimea.