Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t want to use nuclear weapons, just as he doesn’t want to still fight his “special military operation” against Ukraine. But he is still fighting — because he’s unable to win. That also means he might yet drop a nuke, as he once again threatened this week. The US and its allies — and Putin’s putative friends in China and elsewhere — need to decide now how they’d react.
For Putin, nuclear escalation wouldn’t be a way of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, but of snatching survival — political or even physical — from the maw of oblivion. Unlike democratic leaders, he has no way to retire gracefully after all the damage he’s done. As a quack historian of the Tsars, he knows that his end could be messy.