Russia’s announcement of a “special alert” for nuclear forces brings back horrific memories of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – a time when Moscow and Washington were on the brink of a nuclear war.
During the incident, both countries withdrew due to excellent diplomacy, adherence to the principle of Brinkmanship and fear of repercussions. However, when looking for similarities with historical events, it is important to remember that situations are not the same. In the current context, we do not have the same threat or crisis of nuclear war.
So how dangerous is this situation?
The biggest risk during crises is usually misjudgment. Perhaps, Russian President Vladamir Putin also misjudged Ukraine as he probably had no idea how much resistance he could face in Ukraine and how much the Western alliance could harm him internationally. The world is different now. Russia is smaller and arguably weaker than the Soviet Union, however, on the other hand, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United States (US)-led alliance, is larger.
Three decades later, that thumbnail history may sound oddly comforting: All’s well that ends well. But living through the Cold War, complete with bomb shelters and nuclear attack drills, was anything but comfortable.
Maybe that’s why they started thinking about new options. This could include a decision by the ground forces to intensify the offensive and increase international pressure. Putin’s announcement of a high alert is a significant public signal and warning. Their plan is to intimidate NATO into thinking that Moscow is ready to go.
Maybe they want to create an ambiguity about what they will do that is tantamount to crossing the line and what they are willing to do in response. However, this is not the same as actually using weapons. Putin knows that this will have the worst consequences for him and for Russia.
But even if it is true that they would like to use the weapon, it does not mean that the reaction will not be severe. So far, no harsh language has been used by Western countries in response.
The fear, however, is that the crisis could escalate further if it is miscalculated and could reach a critical juncture, perhaps even closer to what happened in Cuba.
It is to be noted that thousands of Ukrainians travelled towards neighbouring countries to escape the war, with United Nations (UN) estimating refugee numbers have reached 368,000 and rising. According to an independent monitoring group, Russian police have detained more than 900 people protesting against the invasion of Ukraine in widespread protests on Sunday.
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