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The war in Ukraine can now go in two directions.

On one side, there have been suggestions that Russia might escalate the conflict, as at the current level of classical conventional conflict it is failing to achieve its military objectives.

Twitter is now full of videos of Russian tanks and armoured cars being destroyed by Ukrainian forces, and Russian armoured vehicles being towed away by Ukrainian tractors.

Russia has had an astonishing number of its most senior military staff killed in action against the Ukrainians, including 9 senior-most officers including General Gerasimov, all at once.

Russia has now committed much of its armed forces to the Ukraine conflict and has had to draw down units in its own far east and elsewhere.

Belarus is refusing to take part in the conflict in spite of Lukashenko's rhetorical support due apparently, to fears of mass mutiny and even fear that the entire Belarussian contingent might simply join the Ukrainians they are supposed to be fighting.

Russia is left with unpalatable options of escalation, either via chemical and biological warfare or perhaps to nuclear warfare.

It has been assumed that escalation to nuclear warfare might take place if the conflict became a conventional conflict between NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic States and Russia. It's not hard to imagine scenarios in which this could happen, and it's been suggested by many analysts that Putins ambitions extend to the Baltics and to Poland.

The current performance of Putins armed forces against Ukraine suggests that widening the conflict at the conventional level might be seen even by Putin and his inner circle as inadvisable in the extreme.

However, if NATO forces were just a little too successful – as they likely would be – and for example, penetrated or threatened the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, home to a large number of Iskander tactical nuclear missiles, then its likely these missiles would be used and would devastate Central East Europe – Poland, the Baltics, Slovakia, Czech republic, Austria, Germany.

Tens of millions would die and WW-III would be into Phase-I. Phase 2 would be the use of SLBM and ICBM forces and would destroy civilisation.

However, its been suggested that another route exists to nuclear escalation that does not immediately involve NATO.

Because it does not immediately involve NATO Putin might believe he could get away with it.

This is a nuclear strike on a purely Ukrainian target. There are of course a number of possibilities – Kharkhiv, Kiev itself, Mariupol, and Lviv.

Russian media contains a number of suggestions that all documentation relating to Ukraine’s (nonexistent) nuclear weapons program has been shifted to Lviv.

No doubt most vital documentation has indeed been shifted to Lviv.

It is also suggested that Ukraine now has an active program, aided by the US, to acquire nuclear weapons.

No evidence is given for this and as far as we can see there isn’t any.

However (though this author is not convinced) some do think this may make Lviv a nuclear target. 

I am far from convinced that this is a live option. If he did this Putin might (or might not) bring about a surrender or ceasefire. He might also bring about the opposite.

He might or might not cow countries who do NOT want to see WW-III take place and have civilisation come to a fiery end, into lifting sanctions. On the other hand its as likely that he'd face intensified sanctions from all, including even China.

He would be regarded as more than an international pariah. He'd be seen as the very devil incarnate and rightly so.

Who knows if this dire option has crossed his mind? If it did he'd be well advised to dismiss it immediately.

It is clear however that things are not going Mr Putins way, and he is looking for an exit strategy.

There is one, and its also an exit strategy for his opponent, President Zelensky whose country is being trashed simply by the intense conventional warfare, as block after block of soviet -era apartments lived in by modest ordinary folk are converted into rubble by heavy artillery.

The same logic whereby we argue that if Ukraine does not wish to be part of Russia they should be able to determine their own future, applies also to Crimea, Don-bass and Lukhansk. They too should be able to determine whether or not they wish to be part of...Ukraine. And in what is hopefully evenhandedness lies a possible negotiated way forward.

When in the 1930s, Finland fought the winter war against Stalin, they accepted as part of the peace deal that eventuated when they fought Soviet forces to a full-stop in a way very similar to the way Ukraine has done, to be neutral.

Both Putin AND Zelensky have more than hinted in speeches made in the last week or so, they they would consider settlements along these lines.

What is critical is that, if this is taken as a broad outline of discussions, that negotiations are entered into bona fide, and not merely as a break in the fighting.

If Russia is unwilling to immediately withdraw its troops (maybe it wishes to maintain pressure on Ukraine), a graduated and partial withdrawal at least could be agreed.

The good offices of either the OSCE or some other mutually agreed on interlocutor should be sought.

If the current round of negotiations does not work, further rounds – until an agreement is reached – should take place.

There should be a ceasefire even if troops remain in place.

Ukraine should be able, if it is not to join NATO, to assure its security in other ways. These ways must be gauranteed.

This war, quite apart from its cataclysmic effect on Ukraine and Europe, risks a global apocalypse. This must not be allowed to happen. If this is not to happen an exit strategy must be sought that allows ALL parties to exit in as intact a shape as possible, and that prevents a mere resumption of hostilities at a later date. Current optimism over the possibility of a negotiated way forward is a good sign and should be persisted with until it bears fruit.


John Hallam

Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

Co-Convenor, Abolition 2000 Working Group on Nuclear Risk Reduction

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