- john simpson
- International Affairs Editor, BBC News
During the first week of the conflict, Ukraine has hit back at Russian troops much harder than Vladimir Putin expected. Or most likely more than the generals promised him.
But these are still the early stages of what is on the way to becoming a very unpleasant war.
The Russian president probably hoped that a few days after the invasion by Russian forces, Kiev would have fallen.
And he surely hoped that Western countries, cowed and divided, would agree to his claiming territory that he says is historically part of Russia.
None of this has happened.
Ukraine has turned out to be a tough nut to crack, and the reaction from Western countries, particularly Germany, has been much fiercer than Moscow thought.
Russia’s economy has already been hit savagely.
Putin’s one great friend, China, now seems concerned that this surge in Western anger could one day turn against the Asian giant itself and do serious damage to its economy.
So he has already distanced himself from the invasion.
NATO, on the other hand, could be strengthened. Finland and Sweden could end up joining the alliance for their own protection.
Putin launched this war in part to prevent Ukraine from one day joining NATO, but he could find more NATO members on his northwestern border.
These are all major setbacks for Putin.
They derive from the president’s own miscalculations, made while he was isolating himself due to covid-19.
He only spoke to a few advisers, who we can assume told him what he wanted to hear. Now she will have to look for new options. He has always refused to back down when he is repelled.
It will hit back harder, and has the weapons to do it.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the US says Russian forces have already used a thermobaric weapon, also known as a “vacuum bomb,” that sucks in oxygen to generate a high-temperature explosion.
The BBC could not verify that statement in an independent way.
Ambassadors at times like this often make extreme claims, but the fact is that we have seen videos of Russian thermobaric rocket launchers on their way to Ukraine.
Analysts say it’s probably only a matter of time before they’re used more widely.
The photographs also show that possible cluster bombs have been used against civilians in Kharkiv. These unleash showers of so-called “mini-bombs”, inflicting horrific shrapnel wounds on anyone in the area.
An international convention banned them in 2008, but Russia has not signed that agreement on the grounds that it uses cluster bombs in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The people of Kharkiv may not agree with that.
Without fear of using the arsenal
Vladimir Putin has never been shy about using excessively dangerous weapons.
It is believed that authorized the use of radioactive polonium to kill former KGB agent and Russian opponent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
The European Court of Human Rights held Russia “responsible” for the murder of the former spy, and a British public inquiry conducted 10 years after his death concluded that the crime was “probably sanctioned” by Putin.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the murder of the former spy.
It is also likely that Putin agreed to allow Russian military intelligence to attack Sergei Skripal, another defector, with the toxic nerve agent Novichok in 2018.
Skripal survived, although a woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after being exposed to the deadly substance.
The danger to completely innocent civilians does not seem to have worried him. These were planned as targeted assassinations, not the kind of widespread attacks we are beginning to see in Ukraine, but the principle is the same: the lives of civilians do not matter if the great interests of Russia are at stake.
Would you be prepared to use nuclear weapons if you don’t get your way in Ukraine?
That may be a possibility, but most analysts believe that we are nowhere near that stage yet.
It is true that Putin has grimly said that if anyone considers interfering in Ukraine from the outside, he will face more serious consequences than any in its history.
And he often repeats the thought that if the world does not include Russia, why should Russia continue to exist? [el mundo]?
In any case, NATO would have to miscalculate very badly for a nuclear confrontation to develop.
history can repeat itself: In 1939, Stalin attacked Finland, expecting it to collapse within days.
Instead, he fought back and the Russian army received a “nosebleed”. Almost a year passed before the so-called Winter War ended, in which Finland lost territory but remained an independent country.
There is at least the possibility that the war in Ukraine will end in a similar way.
We are only at the beginning of things, and just because Ukraine has held out so far, that doesn’t mean it can counter Russia’s full might for long.
But the first round has undoubtedly gone well for the Ukrainians, and the response from the West has been much stronger than most people expected. Chief among them, Vladimir Putin.
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