A Thinly Veiled Nuclear Threat?

Let us hold always the glove in one hand and the olive branch in the other; always ready to negotiate, but only negotiating whilst advancing.

~ Count Metternich

There is a curious correspondence between news of the Russian retreat from Kherson and the sudden emergence high-level calls for peace talks.

This week Tass reported calls for reinvigorated talks from French President Macron, and that a “top Finnish diplomat” said that talks may now be possible.

The BBC also noted that “discussions between CIA Director William Burns and his Russian counterpart Sergei Naryshkin took place the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Monday, November 14th.” This constitutes the highest level public meeting between US-Russian officials since the war began.

The western mainstream media has promoted the view that the retreat is a great victory against the Russian invaders. Perhaps being pushed back on their heels, the Russians are ready to negotiate, but is that what is really going on?

Count Metternich’s advice to “negotiate only while advancing,” is surely not lost on a wily practitioner of Realpolitik like Vladimir Putin. This raises the question whether Zelensky spoke true when he said, “The enemy does not give us gifts.”

Perhaps Putin’s with-drawl from Kherson and Kharkiv, while his armies continue to advance in Donetsk, are a signal to the West of which boundaries would be acceptable to Russia in any potential peace settlement?

On the glove side, however, is it possible that the retreat from Kherson is also designed to serve as a thinly veiled nuclear threat? Putin personally intervened on “National Unity Day” to call for the evacuation of civilians from Kherson with a vague allusion to some future bombardment:

“Now it is, of course, necessary to relocate those who live in Kherson from the most dangerous zone because civilians should not suffer from bombardments, from some offensive, counter-offensive and other measures related to military activities,” the head of state said.

The removal of Russian troops and relocation of the Russian-speaking population from Kherson also comes in the context of Medvedev’s recent threat that, “Russia has not yet used its entire arsenal of weapons.” Moreover, Kherson is at the westernmost point in the line. Where better to use a tactical nuclear weapon to defend territory that is now claimed to be “returned Russian lands?”

The evacuation of Kherson can easily be read as preparation for making good on Putin’s warning, “I am not bluffing.” The increasing signs that Western leaders are willing to talk to the Russians may be evidence that, for once, they can see through their own media-manufactured smokescreens; but where there is smoke, there is fire.

Paul Bentley holds an MSc. (Econ) in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and an Ed. D. in the History and Philosophy of Education from the University of Toronto. He has worked as a History Teacher and Head of Department in Ontario High Schools for over 25 years. He is the author of Strange Journey: John R. Friedeberg Seeley and the Quest for Mental Health — Academic Studies Press.