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Minutes to Midnight

The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, does not believe that Ukrainians are a separate nationality from Russians and therefore re-integrating Ukraine into Russia is justified, regardless of the will of the people who actually live there. This ideological justification is used for the strategic and economic gains that Putin and his allies assume will flow from the annexation of Ukraine, starting in 2014 (with Crimea) and most recently with the "special military operation" of this year.

Following a succession of massive failures on the northern front which attempted to take Kyiv, Russia has concentrated on the south and east of Ukraine. However, in recent weeks the Ukrainians have taken back a great deal of territory in the northeast and have made some inroads in the south as well. Putin is no fool; he knows that he is losing ground rapidly and even oblasts that have been under pro-Russian forces since 2014 (Luhansk, Donestk) are under threat. An hour ago from the time of writing, in a national address, a "partial mobilization" has been declared bringing in all reservists, apparently some 300,000 soldiers.

Further, Putin has called for referenda to be held in the Luhansk, Kherson, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions, at least to the extent that they are controlled by Russia already. There is little doubt that these will be anything but a sham, as there will be no opposition point of view to speak of, they will not be conducted by an international third party, the electoral commission will not be independent, and so forth. But it is the content of the referenda that is important; that the regions become an integral part of Russia.

There is a not-very-subtle threat in this. Putin also said says will use "all available means" if Russia's territorial integrity is threatened, adding: "We are not bluffing". Do you see how this works? The annexed regions of Ukraine will become part of Russia, and any attempt to remove the occupiers will be seen as an attack on Russia itself. "All available means", includes nuclear weapons.

It is not the first time the nuclear threat has been raised; four days after the invasion earlier this year Putin ordered Russia's nuclear arsenal to go into a "special mode of combat duty", and in April - after Germany deployed tanks to Ukraine - Putin said that military provocation from outside of Ukraine would result in pre-emptive nuclear action. But this is the most serious; the aggressive bear has been wounded and is more liable than ever to lash out without reason.


What did I say?

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that any weapons in Moscow's arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories incorporated in Russia from Ukraine.

Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, said that referendums being organised by Russian-installed and separatist authorities in large swathes of Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory will take place, and that "there is no going back":

"The Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) republics and other territories will be accepted into Russia."

Medvedev said the protection of all the territories would be significantly strengthened by the Russian armed forces, adding:

"Russia has announced that not only mobilisation capabilities, but also any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear weapons and weapons based on new principles, could be used for such protection."