The Putin regime is preparing to engage in nuclear terrorism. In my view, here is the military background:
Over the winter and early spring, the Putin regime put its seizure of Bakhmut as its centerpiece in its invasion. At tremendous cost, it finally was able to capture that city, destroying the city itself in the course of action. Now, all reports including from the Institute for the Study of War are that Ukrainian forces are steadily advancing both north and south of Backmut and may soon surround
that city. A retreat from Bakhmut would be a tremendous psychological/propaganda and possibly strategic blow to the invaders. The strategic significance lies in the fact that once behind Russia’s defensive lines, Ukraine could more easily shift towards the south and attack Russia’s other defensive lines from the flanks or from behind.
Russia showed its concern by apparently shifting 180,000 troops to Bakhmut. But this must have left the southern region, including around Zaporizhzhia, more vulnerable. When you factor in the fact that Russia has now lost its most effective fighting force – the Wagner Group – and its political crisis surrounding that loss, you can see that Putin is getting more desperate. On July 5, the Kyiv Post reports that the Ukraine government is saying that Russia used the chemical weapon Lewisite in its struggle to retain control of Bakhmut. This claim has not been verified, but they are credible. After all, Putin’s agent Assad used chemical weapons in his attacks on the Syrian people. And no, there is not the slightest doubt that it was Assad who was responsible, as Bellingcat has repeatedly shown.
Even more dangerous is the claims of the Ukrainian government that Russia has placed mines and other explosives inside the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, including on the roof of the reactors. The Russian regime is of course denying that, but it has ominously moved its staff and troops away from the plant. Now, Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov is claiming that Ukraine plans to sabotage the plant. Those claims should be taken as seriously as Russia’s claims that it was actually Ukraine that slaughtered Ukrainian civilians in Bucha.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has had representatives visit the plant and they say they have not seen evidence of mines or explosives planted. However, they have not had access to the entire plant and rather than scream from the high heavens about that, they are taking a “neutral” position. In the absence of anything else, a petition has been launched is many different languages calling on UN General Secretary Anthony Gutierrez to speak up and on the UN General Assembly to declare the region to be a demilitarized zone as it did in 1956 at the Suez Canal. The petition also calls for public demonstrations around the issue.
The U.N. has proven itself to be a pretty weak body when it comes to issues like this, however. In the absence of a real movement from below – including inside Russia – maybe the best hope is that China will from behind the scenes warns Russia to back off.