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Scoop Editorial: Putin Pushes Devil's Own Button

An increasingly desperate Russian Prime Minister may have overstepped the mark in his flagrant nuclear sabre rattling display today, writes Scoop's Alastair Thompson.

There is a great deal of truth in recent criticisms of the US and NATO's position vis-à-vis Chechnya in light of the recent history in Kosovo.

However at its most basic level two wrongs don't make a right. The fact that the US and NATO apparently have a double standard in approving of bombing from a safe distance in Kosovo, and rejecting outright the Russian's similar strategies in Chechnya, do not make the strategies right in Chechnya.

The irony of this morning's events in Chechnya for Prime Minister Putin however, is that he has made the grave political mistake that the US and NATO were so careful to avoid - suffering large numbers of casualties on the ground in Grozny.

With three days to the Russian Parliamentary elections this morning's massacre of Russian troops in Minutka Square where seven armoured personnel carriers - probably carrying inexperienced conscripts – were destroyed, is going to be difficult to explain.

Scoop has a theory as usual and it is based on one of the most basic analytical methods - look to the most proximate cause.

There are two reasons the Russian's launched their abortive assault this morning.

Firstly they attacked because Prime Minister Putin still thinks he can use this war to perform well in Saturday's Parliamentary election. Similarly the ICBM test firing is designed to show off - a grand display of power.

Secondly they attacked today because the weather is closing in. Big snow is on the way and Russian military planners know this.

Finally they attacked today because a Christmas assault was possibly no longer on the cards with a possible political interregnum following Saturday's elections.

The question now is will it work. The slaughtered Russian soldiers in their APCs are not going to go down well in the Russian media.

Nor is it going to go down well among the military commanders in Chechnya who almost certainly counselled against a frontal assault on the city for this very reason.

And therefore we have what can best be described as a situation in play.

Putin is flexing the nuclear muscle to prove just how much he is in control. However there is a conflict in appearances.

Objectively the decision to back off from the ‘Big Bang Grozny’ plan, followed by the massacre Minutka Square and the loud brash words and Nuclear sabre rattling make any sane person anxious about the Russian Prime Minister.

Like we had in Indonesia following the decision to call in UN peace-keepers we now have lots of players playing for positions that will be decided post December 19.

By playing with the nuclear button Putin quite possibly has crossed the line. Possibly Putin’s vision of the Russian Bear may not be cuddly enough. He has pushed the devil's button. The Russian People - god fearing as they are - may well punish him for this.

The Russian people almost certainly want a strong leader. But they do not want a leader who will take them into nuclear Armageddon. In this regard Prime Minister Putin may have now overstepped the mark.

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