As tensions between the US and Russia intensify over the escalating Ukraine Crisis, the economically failing Russia provocatively tests its ability to conduct a worldwide war. Given Russia’s “training exercises” include nuclear bombers, the potential for a nuclear war may be rising. At the very least, the Putin government is attempting to intimidate Europeans and Americans in order to discourage us from bolstering our support of the faltering Ukrainian military and ratcheting up more sanctions that could doom the Russian economy for years to come.
What really complicates the situation is Russia’s newfound love affair of the rogue state North Korea. A couple steps behind Moscow, Pyongyang has recently chosen to escalate its rhetoric to include threats of a nuclear strike against the United States. Recognizing North Korean government is extremely insecure, domineering, and delusional when it comes to understanding its actual significance in the world, it has long been a concern that North Korea would be willing to use nuclear weapons without contemplating the implications of doing so.
Although the US may be safe from a North Korean nuclear attack, we are not safe from a Russian nuclear strike. Unfortunately, it appears the current generation of Russian leadership does not respect the devastation of a nuclear blast while it also appears Russia may be lowering its threshold for a nuclear response. Absent a greater number of facts when it comes to Putin’s thinking and North Korea in general, the possibility that Russia would be willing to transfer superior nuclear technology to North Korea must be considered.
Just as Russia is more than willing to arm pro-Russian rebels to undermine the pro-Western Ukraine government, it may well be willing to arm North Korea. Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis, Putin already has a precedent for such a policy. Strategically, upgrading North Korea’s nuclear arsenal would create an added nuclear threat to the US, South Korea, Japan, and Europe while it would help neuter the threat of a increasingly assertive China to Russian dominance. In other words, it would create a nuclear deterrent that would help protect Russia.
If North Korea would go so far as to launch a nuclear strike against the United States or a US ally like Japan, which is far enough away from North Korea to evade self-inflicted destruction, Russia could avoid being the target of retaliatory measures. This would be consistent with Putin’s innocent-victim PR strategy. In turn, any retaliatory measures on behalf of the United States could draw the US and China into a full-blown war, thus neutralizing the most significant threats to Russian dominance. Given the uncertainties involved in the alleged hacking of Sony by North Korea, it is even possible Putin has already executed a similar strategy in terms of cyber warfare.
Speculation aside, the one certainty is that the Ukraine Crisis is getting worse. The Obama Administration may even send lethal aid to bolster Ukrainian forces. Those proposing the sound argument for arming government forces hope to give Kiev enough leverage to force a peaceful settlement. This strategy, however, makes the questionable assumption that the pro-Russian rebels and/or the Putin government are actually striving for a peaceful settlement. It is, after all, in the interests of the rebels to continue their fight until they have claimed victory over the pro-Western government while Russia is already paying the price for its involvement in the Ukraine Crisis, thus it has more to gain from finishing what it started in Ukraine than surrendering.
Whether Kiev eventually falls to pro-Russian rebels or manages to hold out, Russia’s economy is faltering. As such, it can only maintain its military campaign in Ukraine, as well as its provocative global “training” exercises for so long. This means a takeover of Ukraine will only be burden to Russia, especially if Ukraine collapses into a failed state. Quite frankly, the pro-Russian rebels have largely demonstrated an inability to provide from the needs of those living in the territory they have seized, even with Russian “humanitarian aid.” Consequently, a failed Ukrainian state, which will continue to struggle with violence from terrorists and factions, would be a terrible burden for a Russia struggling with its own economic and political woes.
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