That’s how many Ukrainian provinces will hold referendums within a week, announced the Kremlin.
Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhe and Kherson, all partly occupied by Russia during the bandit raid, will treat the world to sham spectacles staged and directed by Russian troops.
The question posed to the population will be simple: Do you wish to be incorporated into the Russian Federation?
Nobody knows how the votes will be cast, but everybody knows how they will be counted: 90 per cent, give or take, in favour. One wonders how many voters (and commentators) realise that the question could be usefully paraphrased: Do you wish your area to be at the epicentre of a nuclear exchange?
Once the Duma has magnanimously agreed to heed the voters’ wishes and incorporate the four provinces, they will become parts of Russia. That means the Ukrainian troops routing Putin’s hordes won’t be reclaiming their own land but trying to grab someone else’s.
The Ukraine will thus become the aggressor threatening the survival of Mother Russia. That will turn the coyly named ‘special military operation’ into a holy, patriotic war, officially declared. The Kremlin will issue the same battle cry made popular in 1941: “Citizens! The motherland is in danger!”
Russian law, such as it is, provides for two wartime measures, and each will have horrendous consequences for the world. First, the government will be able to declare a mobilisation, possibly total but probably partial.
Second, Russian military doctrine explicitly states that, when fighting a defensive war (and it goes without saying that Russia only ever fights defensive wars), the country is justified in using any weapons at her disposal, including nuclear ones.
The lengths to which the Russians will go in implementing either measure are still a matter of conjecture. But the decision to hold those sham referendums shows they will indeed be implemented, for otherwise there would be no point in burning the bridges.
That’s what the referendums will be tantamount to, for President Zelensky has stated unequivocally that, should Russia go ahead with that obscene show, no peace negotiations, never mind treaties, will ever be possible. The shooting will stop when only one side is left standing.
As the Ukrainian advance is gaining momentum, it is becoming evident that the Russian army can only slow it down, not stop it in its tracks. Military experts are predicting that the cities of Lugansk, Donetsk and Kherson will fall to the Ukrainians within a few weeks. That would spell the end – of Putin’s war, Putin’s regime and quite possibly Putin’s life.
Yesterday the Duma announced a raft of wartime laws stipulating severe punishment for evading conscription, insubordination, damaging military property and so on. These are widely seen as a prelude to mobilisation, but there’s a snag there.
Even if the entire male, and some of the female, population of Russia is conscripted, it will take months before all those mobs can be armed, trained, formed into combat units and deployed. And months is the kind of time Putin may not have.
He needs to stop the Ukrainian offensive within days, weeks at the outside. And the only way he can do that is by using tactical nuclear weapons.
According to the aforementioned military experts, that would indeed ward off the Ukrainian advance. But the political effects of such escalation would be more significant than the military ones by a long nuclear-tipped shot.
Nato, and Biden specifically, have threatened dire, if unspecified, consequences should Putin take that desperate step. Since an all-out Dr Strangelove scenario is too baroque to contemplate, one wonders what kind of consequence they have in mind.
Expressions of grave concern would go without saying – Western leaders have form in that sort of thing. However, brushing those aside, as Putin certainly would, what would be an effective response?
Stepping up the supplies of conventional armaments to the Ukraine wouldn’t enable the Ukrainians to resume their offensive. After all, if the first few battlefield nukes prove effective, what’s to prevent the Russians from firing their remaining 2,000 weapons of this type? These would trump Nato-supplied HIMARs with room to spare.
The only effective response at Nato’s disposal would be one in kind. Either retaliating with tactical nuclear weapons of its own or, more likely, providing such weapons for the Ukrainians to use.
Anything except that would force Zelensky to trade territory for peace. And that would both spell Putin’s victory and whet his appetite for further aggression.
Putin was supposed to deliver a speech ad urbi et orbi last night, but something held him back. We can only guess what that was… Hold on a moment.
Just as I write this, the Führer in the Kremlin has finally spoken. His speech lacked the pathos of Stalin’s radio broadcast on 3 July, 1941: “Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Fighters in our army and navy! It is you I address, my friends! The treacherous attacks on our motherland launched by Hitler’s Germany on 22 June is going on!”
But what it lacked in style, Putin’s speech made up for in chilling content. Vindicating my first prediction a few paragraphs above, he announced a “partial call-up” of reservists.
And he hinted that my second prediction just might have been valid as well. The “special military operation”, he said, was thwarted by the dastardly West committed to “the disintegration of Russia.”
However, his country “would use all means at its disposal to defend Russia if its territorial integrity was threatened.” And Putin agreed with me that, when all is said and done, “all means at its disposal” boils down to nuclear.
With cynicism worthy of a composite of Stalin and Hitler, he added: “Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction.”
So far the only party using nuclear weapons for blackmail purposes has been Russia. The Ukraine couldn’t have done so for the simple reason that she has no such weapons.
And no Western leader has ever issued a public threat of that kind, which of course doesn’t preclude the possibility that a hint at it might have been made in private. One way or another, I am scared that the predictions with which I began this article will soon come true.
The other day I accused another pundit of nuclear scare-mongering. I hope you don’t think that’s what I am doing now. I am just trying to analyse the possibilities – and it’s not my fault that they are becoming scarier by the day.