The war in Ukraine is the most morally unambiguous battle for freedom against tyranny since World War II. The Ukrainians did nothing to invite attack other than to start building a democracy in a place where dictators once ruled, yet Russia is committing horrific savagery and aggression in the service of a dictator who smothers the truth with lies and unflinching repression of dissent.

Russia’s bland, stone-faced führer, Vladimir Putin, is following Adolf Hitler’s playbook. Like Hitler, Putin justifies his actions as a response to past humiliations of his country and makes bogus claims to the territories he intends to seize by force. As Hitler did 75 years ago, Putin is discovering his weakness in the face of the economic, technological and industrial power of the democratic nations arrayed against him. Unlike Hitler, though, Putin has a way to counter that advantage; an ace in the hole — or, rather, in a missile silo.

Russia has enough nuclear weapons to destroy civilization and most of the people on the planet. It has long been assumed no leader would be so insane that he would start a nuclear war that would end with the destruction of his own nation, as well as his enemies, yet Putin has not-so-subtly been rattling that saber as the tide of war has turned against him. 

To almost everyone’s surprise, the Ukrainians have repelled the Russian assault on Kyiv and have exposed the incompetence and low morale of the Russian military machine. Now, with a flood of significant weaponry flowing into Ukraine from the United States and European democracies, there is a real possibility that the Russians could lose their war of aggression. The question is, would Putin accept a defeat that would not only be a huge humiliation, but would seriously threaten his hold on power in Moscow?

Putin has an alternative to capitulation. He could use those unthinkable weapons in his arsenal, at least the tactical nukes that would devastate a battlefield opponent and put the world on notice that he just might be desperate enough to ratchet it up another notch to his bigger weapons.

This lone, deeply cynical and ruthless man in the Kremlin may hold the fate of humanity in his bloody hands, and we really do not know if there is a limit to what he is willing to do.

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