Attempting to read an autocrat’s mind is an exercise in futility. No one can be sure about what is criss-crossing the mind of the Russian autocrat-president Vladimir Putin now. As a measure of abundant caution, American president Joe Biden and his allies are desisting from arming Ukraine with deadlier weapons. History tells us such avoid-poking strategies do not work everywhere. The seven theories here prove why a nuclear war is not totally ruled out in Ukraine.

Theory 1: Entry of Advanced Missiles and Weapons

America’s detractors say Biden is scared of the N-word. In reality, he may not be. Consider: America began supplying the advanced Javelin fire-and-forget anti-tank missiles in large numbers to Ukraine in February 2022. These missiles are premier anti-armour systems with the potential to destroy battle tanks.

Move over to the supply of Raytheon’s Stinger missiles to Ukraine. These are advanced self-contained air defence systems capable of being deployed rapidly by ground troops. They are combat-proven in four major conflicts.

Though Javelins and Stingers are high-end missiles deployed largely in escalated war situations, they have moved into the Ukraine war today along with the Himar rocket-launchers. When such state-of-the-art war equipment is supplied to and used by Ukraine now, it signals the breaching of a dangerous threshold. Can the breaching of other thresholds be far behind? Sure, such breaches would trigger a nuclear war.

Theory 2: Drawing NATO into Direct Conflict

Again, America and Europe never tire of saying they have two reasons for not supplying advanced weapons to Ukraine. One, to ensure urgently-needed weapons get the top priority. Two, not to send advanced weapons until Ukrainian soldiers are trained. Yet, beneath these solemn proclamations lies the fear of a potential nuclear war.

America fears a provoked Russia could hit NATO militarily and go in for horizontal escalation. This means precipitating the Ukraine conflict through geographical expansion. Worse, with its ego badly bruised, Russia may deploy chemical and nuclear weapons in NATO to trigger vertical escalation, which means escalating the conflict by using more resources, more weapons and more powerful methods. Whatever may be the choice of escalation, such an intensified conflict is sure to bring NATO and Russia face to face. This eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation would surely mean a nuclear war.

Theory 3: The Winnability Score and a Fragile Ego

Ukraine’s each successful offensive lifts its winnability score in the war. As Ukraine gets dead aggressive to retake Kherson now, success here is sure to raise Ukraine’s winnability score further. So, a rising winnability score for Ukraine means, given the right help at the right time, the underdog Ukraine can win this war with Russia. Such a help could take the form of a nuclear aid, raising the possibility of a nuclear war tomorrow.

Autocrats can never come to terms with failure. Hitler is a classic example. When Ukraine’s winnability score perks up, a desperate Russia will find itself pushed to the wall. With defeat staring Putin in his face, a helpless Putin will have no option but to escalate the Ukraine war to the point of nuclearising it. A nuclear attack from Putin is sure to trigger counter-nuclear attacks from America and its allies, thus escalating the war further into a nuclear war.

Theory 4: More Salami Slices Means Nuclear War Possible

Salami slicing is a divide-and-conquer process of overpowering the enemy bit by bit. The salami approach is a slice-and-subjugate strategy. Much as salami is sliced, the enemy is eliminated gradually, slice by slice, until he is neutralised to nothing. This strategy may include splintering the opponent and finally liquidating him.

Till date, NATO has played its hand well in salami-slicing its military assistance to Ukraine. As NATO continues with this good show, there would be more losses of property and human lives for Russia. Accepting defeat is out for Russia and it would not allow itself salami-sliced militarily. Nor, would it face the NATO forces directly. Such a no-go situation is sure to leave Putin with the sole option of a nuclear attack.

Theory 5: The West’s Love for Proxy Wars

As Ukraine gets greater help from its well-wishers in the West, Russia is bound to tap its military potential fully. This may make the West (Read America) think about launching a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. History shows America loves proxy wars for multiple reasons.

If America could fight a proxy war with VietCong in Vietnam in the Seventies and if the same America could fight another proxy war in Afghanistan in the Eighties, what would stop them from repeating the same in Ukraine tomorrow?

Thus, America would see the proxy war as a great opportunity to put an end to Russian hegemony in Europe. Keep arming Ukraine, fight a proxy war happily and press the nuclear button when push comes to shove. Well, the possibility is right there.

Theory 6: The Megalomaniacal Autocrat

Putin sees himself as Russia. Putin considers Russia a mirror image of himself. Any threat to Russia will be seen by him as a threat to himself and his hegemony. Any which way you look at it, Putin is considering Ukraine a prestigious life-and-death issue. This being the case, Putin will not hesitate to escalate the Ukraine aggression into a nuclear war if his or Russia’s existence is threatened. The megalomaniacal streak in him would not allow him to sit back and introspect.

Theory 7: Pre-emptive Attack on NATO

As we see it, Putin may see a pre-emptive attack on NATO as the most suitable option for Russia now. The probability of such an attack is quite high as Putin has been smelling the anytime-possibility of NATO’s direct intervention in the Ukraine war. Thus, Russia is gearing up for this attack, getting prepared if NATO moves its missiles dangerously closer to the Russian border.

Then, Russia will pre-empt NATO by attacking its military supply lines supporting Ukraine. Alongside, Russia would launch covert pre-emptive cyber-attacks on Ukraine too. Such co-ordinated pre-emptive vertical warfare can balloon into a nuclear war.

In Conclusion

Amid these theories, a recent historical fact stands out. In January 2022, five non-proliferation treaty nations, including Russia, had jointly affirmed to ensure a nuclear war is never fought. A month later, on 24 February 2022, Russia violated this joint-affirmation and invaded Ukraine, a nation which had voluntarily given up nuclear weapons. Clearly, this shows how an autocrat’s mind works and how he is likely to act in future.