Nuclear escalation suggests a dark future

Should Russia’s nuclear threats be reason to end in the ongoing war in Ukraine?


James Dobson, Staff Writer

Nine months into its war with Ukraine, Russia is having a more difficult time than expected defeating its southwestern neighbor. The Ukrainian military is resisting Russian forces much more effectively than officials in countries like the U.S. initially believed. It’s important that the world remain conscientious of this ongoing war, especially with the potential implications of nuclear weapons being used.

In February, U.S. intelligence officials predicted that the Russian army would quickly overwhelm the Ukrainian resistance and win the war in days. In Russia, officials at the start of the war consistently promised a quick and easy victory to the public.

However, a quick Russian victory has been by no means the outcome of this war. Ukraine has been able to resist invading forces better than expected and recently even regained some land in their counteroffensive movement. This war has cost Russia hundreds of thousands of troops as well as millions of dollars in destroyed equipment.

With the invasion going more poorly than expected, it has become a source of embarrassment for Russia, which had a great underestimation of the resolve of the Ukrainian people to repel the attacking forces.

In light of this, Putin and other Russian military officials have recently hinted at the use of nuclear weapons, causing great concern to the international community. Early in Oct. 2022, prominent Russian official Ramzan Kadyrov called on Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine in response to Russia’s losing of the captured town of Lyman. 

Later that month, other Russian officials accused Ukraine of preparing to use a dirty bomb, a weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives, according to the CDC,  in the war effort. This raised concerns that Russia might plan to use a dirty bomb and then blame it on Ukraine.

After remarks like these, United States President Joe Biden declared on Oct. 7, that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the world is understandably on much higher alert for a nuclear conflict.

This fear has led many to advocate for peace between Russia and Ukraine, even if that means the Russian annexation of territories belonging to Ukraine before the invasion began.

So far, Russia has annexed four of Ukraine’s 24 regions, the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, which together make up about 15% of Ukraine’s land and is roughly the size of Hungary, according to Reuters. 

Putin held referendums in these regions where the residents purportedly overwhelmingly voted to join the Russian Federation, however these elections were declared by the United Nations General Assembly to have been staged and illegal under international law, according to The Rule of Law in Armed Conflict project.

However, appeasement of Russia at this stage is the absolute worst route to take in resolving the Ukrainian conflict. Allowing one’s country to encroach on another country’s sovereign territory because the invading country is able to threaten nuclear force would only set the stage for more invasions around the world.

Moreover, this example would easily lead to the amount of nuclear weapons in the world increasing as more countries pursue their own nuclear arsenal, out of fear that being without these kinds of weapons could one day put them in a situation similar to Ukraine.

Despite criticism, U.S. foreign policy has done exceptionally well with its approach to the war in Ukraine. 

America and its allies have been providing as much support and aid to Ukraine without having a direct military involvement in their war with Russia. This has included humanitarian aid among others that have been instrumental in assisting Ukraine’s ability to repel Russia.

This is beneficial not just because it aids Ukraine and its defense, but setting a very important global precedent. A future where nations are allowed to conquer each other as long as they can use nuclear weapons is not a safer world, and it is for this reason that Ukraine must have continued support from the U.S. and other countries around the planet who wish to contribute to a safer world.

From the fall of the Soviet Union up until the 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia, Ukraine had been a sovereign state with recognized borders. The country, just like any other sovereign nation, has the right to territorial integrity.

Even Russia has explicitly acknowledged its rightful territory, and in fact explicitly agreed to respect these borders; this is reflected in its signing of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, according to The Brookings Institution. This was when the U.S., Russia, and Britain pledged to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force.” This was in exchange for Ukraine’s complete surrender of their nuclear arsenal, a promise which Ukraine had agreed to and followed through with fully.

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of the agreed upon Budapest memorandum and of international law. It has caused untold suffering to the people of Ukraine as they continue to wage their war. Ukraine should absolutely have the right to reclaim their sovereign territory, all the way up until the Crimean Peninsula that was annexed from them in 2014, if they see fit to do so. 

If they are pressured into surrendering and conceding territories currently occupied by Russia, the example set would be a very dangerous one. It will only invite more invasion and aggression from actors such as Putin who can use their nuclear capabilities to threaten countries into submission.