The fear of a global nuclear war has returned as a result of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Star professor Timothy Snyder thinks this is unlikely – another scenario for the end of the war is much more likely for him.

7 months after the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, there is still no end in sight to the war. While before the Russian invasion no one could have imagined that the war could begin – now it is difficult to imagine how the war will end.

Timothy Snyder, renowned author and professor of history at the famous Yale University, writes on his blog that he does not believe that a nuclear attack by the Russian armed forces will end the war. For the well-known US historian, another end-of-war scenario is much more likely.

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Ukraine’s gains on the battlefield are important because Ukraine is putting such pressure on Russian politics, Snyder said. Because, according to Snyder, it is becoming increasingly clear that Putin’s regime is deceptively fragile.

According to Snyder, Putin’s actions in Ukraine have changed his position in Moscow for the worse. But it would not follow from this that he had to win the war in Ukraine: “What counts is staying in power in Moscow, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is exposing himself to further risks in Ukraine.”

So he goes on to write that the war would end if Ukrainian military victories changed Russian political realities. For Snyder, that process has already begun.

According to the US historian, many ideas about the end of the war would be connected with a nuclear detonation. For him, however, this scenario is unlikely: “I think we’re drawn to this scenario in part because we seem to lack other variants, and it feels like an ending,” said Snyder.

According to the US historian, focusing on this scenario would only fuel fears and prevent preparation for more likely future scenarios. Thus Snyder prophesies: “This war will almost certainly not end with an exchange of nuclear weapons”.

After all, states with nuclear weapons have fought and lost wars since 1945 without using nuclear weapons. According to Snyder, Putin would aim for mental nuclear blackmail: Putin hopes that vague references to nuclear weapons would deter Western partners from supplying arms to Ukraine. The rhetorical escalation is one of the few options that Putin still has, according to Snyder.

According to the US historian, giving in to nuclear blackmail would not end the war in Ukraine, but rather make a future nuclear war more likely: “If you make concessions to a nuclear blackmailer, he learns that with this kind of threat he gets what he wants, which guarantees further crisis scenarios in the future.”

The US historian also doubts that Putin would take the political risk of a large-scale mobilization if he then detonated nuclear weapons in the vicinity. Also, according to Snyder, Moscow is unlikely to use nuclear weapons in the territories it has annexed. After all, Moscow sees these areas as Russian territory.

A possible plausible scenario is that a Russian conventional defeat in Ukraine imperceptibly turns into a Russian power struggle, which in turn requires a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.

Previously, the survival of the Russian regime depended on two premises: “What happens on TV is more important than what happens in real life; and what happens abroad is more important than what happens at home,” said Snyder. As Ukraine wins more and more battles, a lot would change, especially in Russia: “Television is giving way to reality, and the Ukrainian campaign is giving way to a struggle for power in Russia,” writes the US historian.

There is a gap in both the elite and public opinion in Russia, which is now becoming visible on television. According to Snyder, the war would often be portrayed as a mistake in the Russian public – others, in turn, are demanding more material and forces at the front. Putin must face these contradictory positions in his country, even if he is weakened.

The US historian believes in a future Russian power struggle: Two prominent Russian politicians, Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, would strongly criticize the Russian high command. Since the Russian population knows that Putin is actually in command, this would have a divisive effect, Snyder said.

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He believes it is no coincidence that both Kadyrov and Prigozhin control a private military force. However, since Kadyrov did not want to mobilize forces from Chechnya, there are suspicions that he is saving his forces for something else, Snyder said.

Prigozhin and Kadyrov would call for an intensification of the war and would mock the Russian high command in the most aggressive tone – while at the same time protecting their own people, Snyder said. This represents a trap for Putin: “By criticizing the way the war is being waged, they weaken Putin’s information control,” Snyder said. The two top politicians are increasingly trying to get involved in Moscow, which is why Putin needs to strengthen his position in Russia.

According to Snyder, in a power struggle over Russia, it would make no sense to have armed soldiers far away in Ukraine who could be better deployed in Russia for a show of force or for their own protection. Losing in Ukraine is bad for all Russian players involved, but losing in Russia is even worse.

The US historian assumes that Putin’s main concern in the Ukraine war is power: If there were an internal power struggle in Russia, the Ukraine war would be pushed into the background by Putin’s more urgent concern about losing his power in Moscow step, according to Snyder. “Sometimes you change the subject, and sometimes the subject changes you,” concludes the US historian.