By Sarah Starkey | February 11, 2022
On Feb. 8, in a jarring answer to a question from the media, Russian President Vladimir Putin said allowing Ukraine to join NATO would increase the prospects of a Russia-NATO conflict that could turn nuclear. Putin’s assertion, made in the context of a complicated hypothetical about an unlikely Ukrainian attempt to take Crimea back from Russia, came during a joint press conference with the President of France, Emmanuel Macron.
With over 100,000 Russian troops amassed at Ukraine’s border, the conference was originally called to discuss ways to de-escalate the situation. However, about 45 minutes into the meeting, Putin made it clear there were some lines that could not be crossed without severe and possibly even nuclear consequences.
“[T]here will be no winners,” he said, describing a hypothetical future in which Ukraine had joined NATO and then attempted to invade Russian-occupied Crimea, “and you will find yourself drawn into this conflict against your will. You will be fulfilling Article 5 in a heartbeat, even before you know it.”
Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty says that any attack on a NATO member is an attack on all members. This principle of collective defense, NATO says, is at the heart of its treaty. The only time the article has been invoked was on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States.
“Do you realize that if Ukraine joins NATO and decides to take Crimea back through military means, the European countries will automatically get drawn into a military conflict with Russia?” Putin said. “Of course, NATO’s united potential and that of Russia are incomparable.”
Though the Kremlin’s English-language transcript has Putin using, somewhat ambiguously, the term “incomparable,” he also asserted that Russia “is one of the world’s leading nuclear powers and is superior to many of those countries in terms of the number of modern nuclear force components.”
And Putin is correct. In early 2021, Nuclear Notebook authors Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda estimated that Russia has a stockpile of nearly 4,500 nuclear warheads, which is more than enough weapons to obliterate countless cities and military facilities, setting massive fires, the smoke from which would send the world into nuclear winter. The United States has about 3,800 nuclear warheads and another 1,750 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, a force that also has civilization-ending capabilities. The nuclear arsenals of the United Kingdom and France are small by comparison but still powerful enough to cause mass death and environmental damage.
As it has amassed military forces on the borders of Ukraine, Russia has proposed two draft treaties, one with NATO and one with the United States, that seek a variety of security guarantees, including one that would prohibit further eastward expansion of NATO and therefore not allow Ukraine to join. The United States and its NATO allies have rebuffed that suggestion even as talks on de-escalating tensions around Ukraine have continued.
The Bulletin elevates expert voices above the noise. But as an independent, nonprofit media organization, our operations depend on the support of readers like you. Help us continue to deliver quality journalism that holds leaders accountable. Your support of our work at any level is important. In return, we promise our coverage will be understandable, influential, vigilant, solution-oriented, and fair-minded. Together we can make a difference.
Putin is a modern Hitler. Europe should not entertain other illusions
Ukraine will attack Crimea after it joins NATO, huh? Who actually believes this? A surprisingly stupid justification for the potential invasion of Ukraine. He’s not so worried about other NATO nations that border Russia apparently. Goes to show you how important Crimea is to Putin.
He is a criminal, yes, but he’s a criminal with a nuclear arsenal. He has decided to act against Ukraine and he is being stripped of all contact with the western world’s economy and civility. He will not back away from his goals in Ukraine. The question now, is what are we willing to risk to stop his crimes?
IMO, the only prudent step now is to begin fortifying the rest of our eastern NATO allies so that he cannot misunderstand that Ukraine is the LAST adventure he can pursue without NATO calling his bluff on the use of nukes.
I hope cooler heads take control of all this it shouldn’t have gotten this far on all sides
An unnecessary war that will be the start of declining Russia as a power and the rise of Nato. And Putin will be responsible for it. Possible objective is annexation of Donbass and Luhansk regions only…
noone will be alive post-nuclear option, it should never be in the cards and if you think otherwise you are a selfish madman
NATO should not expand into Ukraine. Positioning nuclear weapons so close to Russia presents an existential threat to them. Russia lost 20 million people in WWII. They will not allow that to happen again! They will need to adopt a ‘launch on warning’ posture with mere seconds to determine if a percieved attack is real! This is a recipe for Nuclear War! NATO needs to back-off!
NATO isn’t trying to expand to Ukraine – Ukraine is trying to get in to NATO keep Russia’s aggression at bay. If Putin would stop invading and threatening and trying to reclaim a U.S.S.R pipe dream in absorbing Ukraine, which is to absolutely nobody’s benefit, Ukraine would not be trying to join NATO. Ukraine is trying to protect it’s sovereignty from military takeover. Also, 4 NATO counties already border Russia. Adding a fifth is a non-issue.
Not all NATO countries have nuclear weapons. Nor do many of them care to have them. That’s the point of NATO. They gain security from the countries that DO have nuclear weapons. Smaller countries supported by bigger countries or several smaller countries.
Putin may have gotten paranoid, based on guilt about his own past, possibly involving Crimea, and is now projecting and so tries to distract attention onto neighboring countries who would normally have no interest in attacking Russia. Putin’s “too close for comfort” fear about proximity of neighboring countries and NATO seems to come more from within him than based in actual reality.
11 bombs on french nuclear power plants and it’s over. We should better stop nuclear production and replace it with a mesh network of renewable energy sources, with improved stocking capabilities.
Russia has every right to defend its borders would USA allow this scenario roles reversed
From what!? Ukraine never even hinted at moving into Russia. Putin is a fragile little man over a country that has a poor economy when compared to its neighbors. It could be a great country, but the oligarchs of the country and Putin himself won’t allow that. ON the other hand he is just attacking Ukraine and non-discriminately killing civilians at will. Again, because he is weak and fragile as a person and just scared of everything. Nobody fu#$%ng want’s Russia as a country. it’s GDP is terrible despite abundant resources. All the smart talent in that country and their… Read more »
You think that invading Ukraine is Russia exercising its right to defend its borders? Invasion is not a defense mechanism.