Putin’s Nuclear Bluster has Neutered the UN System
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, and once considered a moderate reformer, said on Tuesday that Moscow may use nuclear weapons first in case of any aggression against it or its allies. As he as often suggested over the course of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Medvedev said Russia’s opponents should not underestimate his country’s determination. This is a serious threat, but it also raises questions over what determines aggression and who determines it. Perceived threats are not always real threats.
A few weeks ago, Russia said that it plans to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Last week, units from Belarus returned home from Russia after training on how to use the Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system, according to the Belarusian defence ministry.
As Medvedev made his comments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was heading the UN Security Council where he came under fire from Western nations over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Lavrov, who has (shockingly) assumed the rotating presidency of the 15-member Security Council, led a meeting on “effective multilateralism,” while the UN chief, along with the U.S., UK, French, and Japanese ambassadors subjected him to harsh condemnation over his country’s aggression against Ukraine, accusing Moscow of atrocities and of “trampling” the UN Charter.
Ishikane Kimihiro, the Japanese envoy, blasted Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and demanded an immediate withdrawal of its forces from the country. “It is an irony, even a tragedy, that the Russian Federation, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, continues its unilateral aggression against Ukraine while hosting an open debate on effective multilateralism through the defense of the principle of the UN Charter.”
“The unprovoked, ongoing aggression by Russia is nothing but an outright defiance of the principle of the UN Charter,” Kimihiro said.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the meeting that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was “causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people.” He also said, “Tensions between major powers are at historic highs. So are the risks of conflict through misadventure or miscalculation.”
Russia is also threatening to scupper the Ukraine grain deal because of what it calls Western “obstacles” to the export of Russian food and fertilizer.
In direct remarks to Lavrov, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, urged him to release American journalist Evan Gershkovich detained in Russia on what Washington and others call trumped-up charges. “I am calling on you right now to release Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich immediately, to let Paul and Evan come home.”
For his part, Lavrov decried “the hypocrisy and colonial instincts of the West, which is obsessed with its selfish interests to dictate its demands to the whole world.”
Russia is fighting a proxy war with the West in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin perceives the world order as imbalanced, and he seeks to correct it by creating a multi-polar system together with China at his side. Lavrov’s remarks are revealing in the sense that he exposes the real reason for Russia’s invasion, which is well-known by now of course.
The fact that a nation could hold the rotating seat of the UNSC while violating the UN Charter and invading another sovereign nation exposes the broken system that is the UN and demonstrates that for all it portrays itself to be, the UN is an ineffective world body that has largely failed to prevent any large scale wars since its founding over 70 years ago.
Now that Russia is again threatening to use nuclear weapons, it is clear that the UN is unable to stop it. It will not take much-perceived aggression or provocation for Russia to feel it needs to use nuclear warfare to achieve its goals in Ukraine.
Moreover, if Russia sees it is losing the war, it may attempt to tip the scales in its favor by obliterating thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians in one shot by employing a nuclear weapon.
Writing in The Telegraph, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon and Bob Seely, warn that Western nations must work to reduce the threat as Russia’s forces collapse in Ukraine. But there isn’t much more to do when faced with a seemingly unfazed opponent like Putin. Sanctions are taking their toll on Russia’s civilian population, but the war is not stopping or slowing down.
The failure of the UN to stop Russia or convince it that it is not worth it to achieve its goals in Ukraine demonstrates that rogue nations like Russia can run roughshod over the global order today, disregard international norms, kill civilians along the way, and get away with it.
Putin’s disregard for the rest of the world signals his willingness to use nuclear weapons to achieve his aims. We are heading into a new global order where rogue nations headed by dictators run the world – not the West.