Russia Continues To Escalate Conflict In Ukraine Posing An Existential Threat Of Nuclear War

President Putin is accusing Ukraine as responsible for the explosion that took place on Crimea Bridge, naming  it “an act of terrorism.” He declared that Ukraine’s intelligence forces were specifically targeting Russia’s critical civil infrastructure: the bridge serves as a major supply chain between Russia and southern Ukraine, and the damage from the explosion is severely impacting Russia’s advances in the war. This is especially the case in Russia’s ability to hold territory in around the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson. 

In speaking to Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Putin remarked, “There’s no doubt it was a terrorist act directed at the destruction of the critically important civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation… Its authors, perpetrators, and beneficiaries are the security services of Ukraine.”

In the following days, Russia responded with a series of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, one of which being the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia killing at least 13 people and injuring 87 others, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. Oleksandr Starukh, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region explained to Reuters that the latest strike partially destroyed a nine-story apartment complex, leveling five other residential buildings, and damaging many more: “We pulled people out quickly and saved eight people already, but when the fire starts then people [under the rubble] have practically no chance of surviving as there is no oxygen.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the missile strikes as “absolute evil” by people he named “savages and terrorists” declaring that justice will be sought. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres greatly condemned Russia, naming it an “unacceptable escalation” in a statement from his office. The statement also included the following message: “The Secretary-General is deeply shocked by today’s large-scale missile attacks by the armed forces of the Russian Federation on cities across Ukraine that reportedly resulted in widespread damage to civilian areas and led to dozens of people being killed and injured.”

Since the invasion began in February, Ukraine, the United States, the European Union, and human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Russia of committing war crimes, saying the attacks on civilians, schools, residential buildings, and hospitals have killed and wounded thousands of people. This most recent missile attack is no exception. 

President Putin held an operational meeting with his Security Council on Monday. Although the agenda of the meeting has not been made public, the meeting comes with strategic timing, two days following the explosion of the Crimea Bridge. 

There are many concerns about the escalation of the war in Ukraine with Russia’s nuclear threat. At a Democratic fundraiser in New York, President Biden warned that the world has never been closer to a nuclear catastrophe in 60 years: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.” He continued by saying, “We’ve got a guy I know fairly well,” referring to the Russian president. “He’s not joking when he talks about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming.”

The main worry is that Putin could use a short-range “tactical” nuclear weapon to stop Ukraine’s counter-offense and force Kyiv to give up its territory. The consequences of this would be extremely severe and irreversible. In President Biden’s words: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily [use] a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.” 

Experts predict in this worst case scenario, the United States would likely respond with conventional military weapons in order to prevent further nuclear escalation. U.S. intelligence agencies think that Putin sees the war on Ukraine as an existential threat to his regime and will do anything to keep himself in power, whatever the cost is. President Biden brought up significant points on Putin as an irrational actor: “We are trying to figure out what is Putin’s off-ramp. Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself where he does not only lose face but significant power?”

As Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his own words last Thursday, the world would never forgive Russia of such an offense: “He understands that after the use of nuclear weapons he would be unable anymore to preserve, so to speak, his life, and I’m confident of that.”

There is currently uncertainty surrounding the proper international response, especially from NATO and the United States on intervention to stop Russia. President Biden pledged to equip Ukraine with advanced air systems in response to the missile attack.

 The G-7 leaders met virtually Tuesday for an emergency meeting requested by Ukraine to discuss Russia’s missile strikes and the next steps on international intervention. The global energy crisis was also on the agenda as G-7 leaders plan on placing an international price cap on Russian oil. 

Humankind has never seen a closer existential threat to its extinction than now. Mediation and de-escalation are the two most important factors that must take priority in all decisions moving forward on the international front. Russia must be held accountable for the innumerable war crimes committed, including purposefully attacking and killing innocent civilians in Ukraine. 

The future obtainability of peace remains one of the biggest questions the world is facing currently. There is no winner in a nuclear war. There needs to be international unity against Russia in order to create stronger deterrence for a potential nuclear attack. And most importantly, Putin must be punished for his unforgivable actions that have led to the deaths of thousands of people.


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