The use of the Zaporozhe nuclear power plant as an “unassailable” military base is unacceptable: it must be met on safety grounds with demands for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from the area.

By creating a strategic militarized offensive base in the middle of the 6 nuclear reactors of Europe’s largest power plant, Russia has clearly crossed a new threshold in its manipulation of nuclear deterrence – though turning it on its head – which the international community cannot ignore. This escalation must be confronted immediately and firmly, as any procrastination will only increase the risks of spreading a world war that can legitimately be assumed to have already begun.

In admittedly very different circumstances, France’s procrastination in 1936 during the remilitarization of the Rhineland by the Third Reich, followed in 1938 by the Munich Accord, considerably increased the suffering, casualties and destruction wrought by the Second World War, which an immediate Allied intervention would have largely contained.

In today’s context, the existence of nuclear weapons capable of global destruction changes the nature of the challenge of military conflict. During the Cold War, the combined doctrines of “mutually assured total destruction” and the renunciation of “first use” prevented through “deterrence” any use of such weapons after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This balance of terror now appears to be upset, firstly by the proliferation of the possessors of such weapons and secondly by the change in Russian doctrine which envisages the “tactical” use of nuclear warheads on the battlefield and even their “strategic” use if its “vital interests” were deemed threatened.

The militarization of the Zaporozhe nuclear power plants introduces a new significant element in Russia’s blackmail of both Ukrainian armed forces as well as public opinion, especially in Europe and the United States. It confirms the “criminal” nature of Putin and his regime and must be confronted within this context, whatever the risks. The episodes of exactions in Boutcha, Irpin, Mariupol, etc., the targeted bombing of civilians, the mass deportation of populations, the confiscation and destruction of agricultural production, the Russification of the occupied territories constitute separately and jointly a sufficient body of evidence to establish crimes against humanity if not the genocidal nature of Russia’s aggression; these require, under international law, an intransigent and determined response.

Given the unacceptable nature of this provocation, the crisis must be resolved not by “negotiation” but by an “ultimatum“. Since the UN, where Russia has a veto, cannot be relied upon, it is up to the United States and the EU Member States to take the initiative. The Washington-Brussels axis should propose an 8-day deadline for the withdrawal of all personnel and war material from the perimeter of the plants, failing which diplomatic relations would be broken off leading to the withdrawal of all diplomatic personnel on both sides. In addition, a new long-term monitoring mission could be entrusted to the IAEA to certify that no power plant under its control harbors lethal weapons or equipment, alien to its normal operation, thus avoiding any accusation of discrimination.

Putin only yields when threatened by someone stronger than him; he exploits and knowingly encourages dissension among EU and NATO member states, counting on the weak resilience of Western countries to endure hardship. Yet such sacrifices are inevitable regardless of the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, given the consequences of the multiple overlapping and interpenetrating crises: geopolitical, financial, economic, climatic, health, inflation, energy, food….

Particularly hypocritical are those who, in the name of pragmatism (real politiek) – while paying lip service to the merits of supporting Ukraine – invoke the duty of western leaders, “because they are democracies“, to take account of their public opinion – which are primarily concerned with their purchasing power – to explain to the martyred Ukrainians the limits of the support they can expect. This spinelessness can only encourage Putin to push his pawns and considerably increase the risks of an irreversible conflagration.

On the contrary, it is the duty of democratic leaders to explain what is at stake and to adopt an uncompromising stance, as Churchill did when he replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940, which galvanized British resistance and won the unconditional support of the United States. President Biden has just reaffirmed, in a speech in Saudi Arabia, his country’s unfailing support and commitment to defend the values of the Western world; it is irresponsible to treat this position with derision under the pretext of his age or by reference to previous outdated statements. The EU, in turn, can do no less in its support for Ukraine, whose abandonment would be only one step further in the decline of European civilization and independence.

By defying the West with his latest maneuver, Putin is giving a new opportunity to strengthen the alliance between democratic countries after having already contributed unwittingly to tightening the links between EU members and to an enlargement of NATO, the exact opposite of his declared objectives. Any dithering, would facilitate a victory at the ballot box of Trump in America or the national-populist parties in Europe, and aid and abet the advent of a new anti-Western world order promoted by Moscow and Beijing in which a majority of the world population will submit to autocratic regimes of which they will ultimately be the first victims.

The time has come to stand up for our beliefs and to push back firmly against Russian aggression. Every step backwards will compound the ultimate price to be paid to preserve a livable planet in which we must all strive to share more equitably the considerable resources available to humankind.

Brussels, 17 July, 2022

Paul N. Goldschmidt

P.S. I have just listened to the speeches of President Macron and Eric de Rothschild on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv round-up.  I hope that the strong words expressed there will find a practical translation in our perception and treatment of the Ukrainian crisis. Beyond the condemnation of the anti-Semitism specific to the Shoah tragedy, the exactions committed in Ukraine bear witness to the same lack of humanity and must be fought and condemned with the same severity. This is both in our interest and the best tribute we could pay to the victims of Nazi barbarism.