May 28, 2023

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Four non-nuclear ways Putin could escalate the war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has triggered a strong response from NATO on nuclear rhetoric, escalating tensions between Russia and the West amid the war in Ukraine, writes The Hill.

However, military experts say there are also a number of non-nuclear ways Putin could escalate the war in an attempt to reduce battlefield casualties.

Putin and his generals have already been accused of committing war crimes and even genocide against Ukrainians, but have so far refrained from using weapons of mass destruction.

Here are some of the non-nuclear ways Russia could inflict mass casualties on Ukraine.

Biological weapons


Russia has repeatedly accused the United States of producing biological weapons in Ukraine, although it has offered no evidence.

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Vladimir Putin

The US responded with warnings that Russia could be preparing its own chemical or biological attack.

“Russia has suggested that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons. That’s a clear sign that he’s thinking about using both,” Biden said of Putin in March.

Biological weapons are microorganisms such as anthrax, ricin and botulism that are deliberately released to cause disease and death. They are prohibited under various laws and international treaties.

Russia inherited parts of the Soviet biological weapons program, and the US State Department assessed this year that it still operates such a program.

Robert Petersen, an analyst at the Center for Biosafety and Bioreadiness, wrote earlier this month that while “there is no definitive evidence of an existing biological weapons program,” public information strongly suggests that Russia has maintained and upgraded the Soviet program.

If Russia were to launch a chemical or biological attack, it would be relatively easy to confirm, so experts believe they would try a “false flag” operation, trying to make it look like Ukraine attacked its own people in an attempt to discredit Russia .

Ben Connable, an assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University, wrote for the Atlantic Council that these efforts are likely to fail.

Such an attack would likely strengthen Ukrainian resolve and further increase Western support for its military, while posing a risk to any Russians attempting a subsequent attack in the area, Connable wrote.

Destruction of dams

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Among the options Russia is considering to counter Ukraine’s offensive in the south is destroying dams on the Dnieper River, according to Branislav Slantchev, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego who has written extensively about the war.

The plan would be to destroy two dams upstream of the Dneprostroi Dam, the largest on the river.

“This would drown the entire left bank of the Dnieper downstream and force the Ukrainians to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people instead of advancing to Kherson, not to mention massive casualties,” Slantchev wrote last month.

“Separately, propagandists are calling for attacks on dams north of Kyiv. The effects of the collapse along the cascade of the Dnipro reservoir would be catastrophic, as the low-lying districts in the path of the resulting flood are very densely populated”.

Russia has already hit roadblocks in its strikes on critical infrastructure across the country.

Last month, Russian missiles damaged a major dam in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih – the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – flooding the embankments of a tributary of the Dnieper River and forcing the evacuation of over a hundred homes.

“All the occupiers can do is to sow panic, create an emergency situation, try to leave people without light, heat, water and food,” Zelensky said after the attack. “Can it break us? Not at all. Will they face a fair response and retribution? Definitely yes.”

Conventional warfare

Russia, s 300, missiles


Russia’s barrage of missiles this month — on civilian targets, military outposts and energy infrastructure — demonstrated its ability to escalate war by conventional means as well.

The war has already killed 6,306 civilians, including 397 children, according to the latest count from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The airstrikes have had little success in halting Ukraine’s military gains, showing the limitations of Russia’s air power as the West looks to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses.

Still, the missiles are achieving their goal, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement last week.

“The destruction of homes and lack of access to fuel or electricity due to damaged infrastructure could become a matter of life and death if people cannot heat their homes,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Hans Henri Kluge.

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