Calibrating the fallout, Ukraine is a sobering lesson for the entire world

By David E. Kaplan

While Ukrainian cities are being pulvarised, compelling their residents to either fight or flee, there is hardly a country on this planet  – no matter how far removed from the conflict – which is not watching this human tragedy play out with calculating horror and questioning:


Like with Covid, there is no place to hide from the Ukraine fallout effecting every country  – big or small, near or far – in some way or another. You don’t have to follow world events to know that world events follow you when you fill up – and pay more – for gas!

While Putin behaves today like a Godzilla on a vengeful rampage teasing and testing all with his lethal leverage, the world shifts from ‘counting the cost’ from Covid to ‘counting the cost’ from Putin’s war.

Read all about it? War returns to Europe; will it spread beyond?

As countries calibrate the Ukraine impact and position their policies accordingly, the world is morphing into as yet an undefined ‘new age’ that has to settle down before historians give it a name.

What future students of history will baffle to understand, is that during such a ‘smart age’, people could behave so stupidly. Why oh why, after two years of a horrendous pandemic killing millions and still remaining a threat with the fear of future mutations,  Russia engages in a self-destructive brutal war with a no-less appetitive China watching and wondering when to pounce  on its nervous neighbour – Taiwan?

The worst take-away from this war is the likelihood of it leading to nuclear proliferation. This is precisely a direction a wary world would want to avoid. Countries around the world, including the hapless Ukrainians must be wondering, would Russia have dared to attack its neighbour had not:

– the Ukrainians voluntary surrendered its 1700 nuclear warheads back in 1994 in exchange for supposedly-binding promises from Russia and

– the US and the world assuring “peace” and “territorial integrity”.

Promises to Price Paid. Russia-Ukraine war puts spotlight on 1994 agreement when Washington contributed half a billion dollars for Ukraine to pass 5,000 nuclear weapons to Russia to be dismantled after brokering the deal. Seen here are soldiers preparing to destroy a ballistic SS-19 missile in the yard of the largest former Soviet military rocket base in Vakulenchuk, Ukraine.

Following the Soviet Union collapse in 1991, Ukraine emerged a formidable nuclear power controlling one-third of the USSR’s nukes. After bruising negotiations, it relinquished them all for promises – false promises.

For sure, had she not, a recalcitrant Ukraine would have been designated a “rogue” state, but who would argue: “better a rogue state than a dead state”, which is precisely Putin’s plan for Ukraine – a dead state! One can only imagine historically-minded Ukrainian men and women, boys and girls fighting today against Russian tanks with home-made “Molotov cocktail” grenades and thinking:

 “What suckers our leaders were?”

Clearly if Ukraine had nukes today, Russia would have thought twice about swaggering into its neighbour with such unabashed ardour.

Bottles for the Brave. Attacked by a superpower with nuclear weapons, a Ukrainian civilian trains to throw Molotov cocktails to defend the city, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, March 1, 2022.  REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi

The only reason inhibiting the US and many European countries from providing air cover or air support to Ukraine is the fear of it being construed by Putin as “escalatory” and leading to a nuclear “WWIII” as the US President is oft to caution.

So the country that gave up its nukes and was then thereafter obstructed from joining NATO and enjoying its protection, is now fighting with its proverbial hand tied behind its back.

Ukraine was setup from the start as easy prey – all at the predator’s choosing! Crimea was the hors d’oeuvre  – an early foray for today’s main course.

How many countries are watching the daily carnage and wondering, whether they too will need nukes one day to protect themselves? Clearly some will reason that it offers better protection than “promises”.

It was chilling watching CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interview Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov who repeatedly refused to rule out that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons against what Moscow saw as an “existential threat”.

Battling with Bottles. Young local Ukrainians prepare Molotov cocktails, in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, February 27. REUTERS/Serhii Hudak

Clearly this rattled the US who condemned Peskov’s comments as  “dangerous“. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday:

It’s not the way a responsible nuclear power should act.”

Clearly it is not.

I look at my grandchildren and think how sad  that a new generation is being introduced to a nuclear threat.

In a  televised statement in February, Putin was not mincing his words when he threatened in an address following his country’s invasion of Ukraine. “:

I would now like to say something very important for those who may be tempted to interfere in these developments from the outside.  No matter who tries to stand in our way …. must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.”

That threat was widely understood in the US and Europe to be a nuclear one. The wording was clear – don’t interfere in Ukraine or we might nuke you!

At the very least, it is not “constructive ambiguity” but destructive ambiguity!

Watching this all unfold are two countries with opposite aims – Israel more determined than ever that Iran should not have nukes and Iran, more determined than ever to have nukes.

Apart from Israel  – that Iran has threatened to annihilate – how many Arab countries in the Middle East threatened by Iran are now thinking, if Iran goes nuke, how can we not follow suite?

After all, who otherwise will protect them?

Armageddon is no longer an “end-of-days” biblical prophecy or the far-fetched stuff  of Hollywood but a real possibility.

Which is why it is baffling that while Iran’s menacing influence in the Middle East region has significantly increased in recent years, the Biden administration is so gung-ho set to conclude a new but water-downed pact with Iran that most certainly would be bad for Israel.

Is Israel, like Ukraine, expected to be placated with “promises”?

Under the new deal, Iran will be monitored only for the next three years and will receive $7bn in released frozen assets, as well as sanctions relief on exports such as oil. On top of this, the Biden administration is considering removing the Islamic Revolutionary  Guard Corps (IRGP) from the US Foreign Terrorist Organisations list in exchange “not to attack Americans in the region”.  Earlier this month, it was reported on the Iranian news outlet Tasnim that IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami, referred to Israel as having an “expiration date“. Addressing IRGC soldiers in Dezful in southwestern Iran, Salami said Israel will have to “endure the bitter taste of missiles if it is not careful.”

Israel and Arab countries in the region were shocked!

Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid in a joint statement expressed that they , hoped that “the US will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists,” while it is understood that  the UAE and Saudi Arabia uncharacteristically showed their displeasure  by “being too busy to take US President Joe Biden’s calls.”   

As an unnamed Israeli security official was reported on Israel’s Channel 13 news to have said, that while Israel considered the original deal to have been bad, the revived accord taking shape is “spectacularly bad”. For one major reason –  it fails to factor in the progress Iran has made since.

Out of Control! Even before the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, there were concerns not only about a spillover in Europe but also across the world from Asia to the Middle East.

Referring to a leaked draft of the imminent accord, the source revealed that Iran will not be required to destroy its advanced centrifuges; that while Tehran will have to reduce its uranium enrichment levels, it has already developed the capability to enrich at high levels. And while Tehran will also be required to cease producing uranium metal – a crucial component of the bomb-making process – the source noted that Iran now has the knowledge to be able to manufacture such materials in the future.

In essence,” the network’s source revealed, “it is an agreement that leaves Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

For the Middle East, this is a horror story.

To allow Iran to acquire weapons of mass destruction would be nothing less than mass insanity!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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