Nearly one year into Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, journalist Bob Woodward said there is a serious danger of a desperate Putin using nuclear bombs.
“We are on ice that’s so thin you can’t even see through it,” he said.
Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal and has written books on every president since Richard Nixon, released his latest book, The Trump Tapes, in October. It consisted of more than 10 hours of interviews with former president Donald Trump.
He spoke about the tapes at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto in a talk hosted by TVO on Jan. 26. Woodward spent much of the conversation discussing Putin, Ukraine, Trump and nuclear weapons.
His warning on Putin came just before the Russian president’s announcement on Tuesday that his country will suspend its involvement in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) nuclear arms reduction treaty.
The treaty is the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia. The two countries possess the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals and more than 90 per cent of global nuclear warheads, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s response to Putin’s speech.
The same day former president Donald Trump said in a video statement the world is on the brink of a Third World War.
He said the invasion of Ukraine one year ago was outrageous and horrible.
“It would have never happened if I was your president, not even a little chance,” Trump said.
Russia’s war on Ukraine could be ended in 24 hours with the right leadership, he said.
Trump has made similar claims in the past, but Woodward said he was sceptical about them.
“Oh, boy. Easier to describe the creation of the universe,” he said.
Woodward said what Putin has done so far to Ukraine is savage and unbelievable.
He said a source with knowledge inside the U.S. government told him Putin has lost, from death or injury, two-thirds of his army.
He also said Putin had lost 1,900 of his 3,000 tanks since the start of this year.
Woodward said he thinks President Joe Biden has done a strong job of “dancing that long line of putting pressure, supplying arms.”
He used the metaphor of a poker game to describe Biden’s efforts to get other NATO countries to send tanks to Ukraine.
“How much are you going to put in? How much are you going to put in? And everyone did. And that’s important,” he said. Canada has since sent the first of four promised Leopard 2 to Ukraine.
Woodward said Biden is trying to walk the line of deterring Putin but not triggering a reaction from the Russian president.
“Biden has made it very clear, ‘I’m trying to avoid World War Three,’” Woodward said.
He referred to a quote from Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor for presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and who he called one of the true geniuses in foreign policy.
“Scowcroft said, ‘Deterrence is what is in the heads of your enemy leadership,’” Woodward said.
“What’s in Putin’s head? We didn’t deter him from invading,” he said.
Biden does not want a direct war with Russia, Woodward said.
“But are we in a proxy war? How does Putin look at it, now?” he said.
Woodward said it was a great moment when Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to the United States and spoke to congress.
“It was almost Winston Churchill,” he said.
Zelenskyy thanked Congress and asked for more weapons. Woodward said there was a wonderful feeling of unity in the U.S.
“And how do you think Putin looks at that?” he said. “Putin looks at that and says, ‘Oh, they’ve already declared war on me,’” Woodward said.
Woodward is not the only one concerned about Putin’s nuclear threats.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists updated the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight from 100 seconds, its editor John Mecklin said in a statement released on Jan. 24.
“Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict, by accident, intention, or miscalculation, is a terrible risk,” Mecklin said.
Alan Robock, a geophysicist at Rutgers University who studies the climate science of nuclear winter, shares similar worries.
He told Humber News that in a nuclear war, smoke from fires created by bombs dropped on cities would be lofted into the stratosphere, located at 10 to 50 kilometres above the earth’s surface, and cool the planet enough to cause global famine.
“A war between the U.S. and Russia could kill over five billion people,” Robock said.
Woodward said Putin has been winning some battles and that many say time is not on Ukraine’s side in this long war.
“But suppose you get to a point where he really feels he’s up against the wall. When does Putin just say we’re going all the way and all the way could be using the tactical nuclear weapon,” he said.
“That day, should that happen, will mark a pivot point in history,” Woodward said.
“And you can’t rule it out.”