The Washington PostThe Washington Post

How to prevent nuclear war: Give Putin a way out

By James M. Acton

01 Mar 2022 · 5 min read

On Sunday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his defense minister to place the country's "deterrence forces on high combat alert." This technical-sounding order left the normally unflappable Sergey Shoigu visibly uncomfortable - and with good reason: In the middle of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin had just ordered him to start readying Russia's nuclear forces for use.

The likelihood of a nuclear war, while still low, is rising. Putin's unprovoked war of aggression has, so far at least, not played out as he might have hoped, and this nuclear threat is unlikely to change the war's dynamics. If the conflict drags on, desperation could lead him to cross the nuclear threshold. Ukraine, the United States and its NATO allies will have to try to create an off-ramp for Putin to avoid that catastrophic outcome.

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