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'Putin will not press the nuclear button'

By RASHME SEHGAL
March 04, 2022 07:28 IST
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'He is not that crazy.'
'He is driven by a deep sense of Russian power have been diminished.'

IMAGE: A building near the National University in Kharkiv on fire after Russian shelling. Photograph: Press service of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service/Handout via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat to raise the alert level of his country's nuclear arsenal to 'special combat readiness' following the United States ramping up off sanctions sent shock waves across the world.

"No one thought he would attack, but he did. There was some thinking that if he did move in, he would restrict himself to only the two eastern provinces. It seems he wants to capture the whole of Ukraine and ensure a regime change," Dr R Rajaraman, emeritus professor of theoretical physics at JNU and former co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

The concluding segment of a two-part interview:

 

In Russia, I understand the last nuclear exercise was conducted on February 19, 2022. What did it involve and was it done keeping in mind the Russian attack on Ukraine?

I do not think so. Drills have to be conducted all the time particularly of things they do not use.

All this stuff has to be kept in a state of readiness, year after year. But that does not mean they are going to use them.

What does the drill involve?

Supposing the guy presses the button, the button does not immediately launch the bomb, the button only gives instructions.

There are several steps to get the attack going.

Silos have to be opened, bombs have to be attached and the planes have to get into the sky.

All preparatory steps have to be done. Drills are done, but not with nuclear weapons.

Ukraine was known to have a lot of nuclear installations. The Russian forces surrounded and took over the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Were all Ukraine's nuclear plants dismantled?

When the Soviet Union broke down, all other countries of the former Soviet Union had nuclear weapons.

The USSR had distributed these weapons in all these countries.

These were all brought back to Russia as part of the Nunn Luger Act. These are the names of two US senators (Sam Nunn and Richard Luger).

It was an act of the US Congress that provided funding to ensure the safety of these nuclear materials and weapons so that it all could be accounted for.

When the former Soviet Union collapsed, they were so broke that they were not in a position to pay even their nuclear scientists.

That was a very dangerous situation to have been in.

If Saddam Hussain had known of this, he would have been only too happy to have taken a couple of them to Iraq.

Did any scientist reach China?

Nothing went out. The US funds came in very quickly to pay the salaries and for all the security workers working in these installations.

The Soviet Union had a lot of military hardware, but their internal situation was not very good. The Russians were known to come and buy shirts from India.

IMAGE: Demonstrators are arrested during an anti-war protest in Russia. Photograph: Reuters

War is an expensive business. The Russian economy is just picking up.

The average Russian is not happy with the war. That is why one seeing some protests on television. Putin is a tough dictator.

Some Indian analysts have spoken about how a large amount of fissile material in Ukraine seems to have simply disappeared and the government there needs to give an explanation.

From what I know, nothing like this has happened. Nothing has disappeared.

I was a member of the committee of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an American NGO who prepared an index of how countries are protecting their nuclear material and highly enriched uranium was by and large accounted for by all the countries.

India scored very badly. When their report came out, the Indian foreign office started jumping on my head.

When the Indian government was contacted, the response from the MEA was so arrogant.

When the Indian embassy in Washington was contacted, several times over, they did not bother to give a response.

Our security measures are good, but no one was willing to provide any details.

Their unwillingness to share details led to the poor evaluation in their index.

There was at one time some unaccounted fissile material in Russia.

They were not keeping careful track but now it has all been accounted for.

IMAGE: A demonstrator shows a peace symbol painted on her hand, next to a law enforcement officer, during an anti-war protest, in Vladimir Putin's home city, St Petersburg, March 2, 2022. Photograph: Reuters

What kind of precedent has President Putin's threat of a nuclear attack sent out to other countries? What kind of signal does this send out to other countries?

It's a very bad signal. It is a breakdown of the world order and of statesman-like behaviour.

For several years, both the US and Russia had followed several unwritten norms.

Now China will attack Taiwan. As it is, China attacked us two years ago.

Maybe Russia was provoked by the expansion of NATO, but even then this attack was a very bad thing.

The Ukranian government seems to have completely underestimated the Russian threat. Will Putin press the nuclear button?

No one thought he would attack, but he did. There was some thinking that if he did move in, he would restrict himself to only the two eastern provinces.

It seems he wants to capture the whole of Ukraine and ensure a regime change.

But he will not press the button. I cannot say this with certainty.

He is not that crazy. He is driven by a deep sense of Russian power have been diminished. He is an old KGB man and probably hates (Mikhail) Gorbachev (the last president of the Soviet Union and last general secretary of the Communist party).

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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