by Mykhailo Gonchar, President of the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI
Having failed to capture Ukraine through direct armed aggression within 6 months, Russia quickly developed and is deploying new hybrid mechanisms with increased stakes and threats of using tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). For a long time, since March 4, when the Zaporizhzhia NPP (ZNPP) was seized, Europe and the USA did not take seriously the actions of the Russian Federation regarding nuclear facilities in Ukraine and reacted sluggishly to violations of international principles of dealing with NPP. This is what tempted the Kremlin to use a hybrid mechanism of nuclear escalation, on the background of the dysfunction of the UN and the worthless efforts of specialized organization – the IAEA.
Nuclear and political blackmail
The sharp increase in Russian military and propaganda activity around the ZNPP indicates that the Kremlin has worked out a special scenario for playing the "nuclear card". It is possible that a "nuclear and political attack" should become, according to the Kremlin's plan, the main mechanism for the end of the special military operation, as well as hybrid nuclear blackmail of the West in a scenario that can tentatively be called "Cuban Crisis-2." The probability of such a scenario was discussed in a study by the Center for Global Studies Strategy XXI back in 2017. The scheme of the "Cuban crisis" is considered by the Kremlin to be ideal for obtaining strategic concessions from the West. Putin mentioned it from time to time, starting from 2007. Of course, we are not talking about a one-to-one repetition of the situation of 60 years ago. This can be a hybrid option in the spirit of modern approaches, when something that should not be a weapon becomes a weapon, for example nuclear energy.
The contours of the use of the "peaceful atom" for military purposes are traced in the fact that the first deputy head of the administration of the President of the Russian Federation, Serhiy Kiriyenko, has been nominated to the leading position. He is the former head of Rosatom in 2005-2016, a hero of Russia, one of the contenders for the Kremlin. In addition to all this, he deals with the issue of Ukraine after V. Surkov and D. Kozak.
His important policy paper, published on the website of the pro-Kremlin publication "Izvestia" on Russia Day, June 12, although it was taken down, clearly highlighted the intentions of actions regarding Ukraine. It was about joining the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. The mechanism is not the Surkov quasi-state "people's republics," but the territories that "historically were part of Russia" and are now being returned due to the "expression of the will of the people" in the referendum.
The main idea of S. Kiriyenko may be to apply a hybrid model of mixed nuclear escalation with subsequent de-escalation according to the following approximate scheme, the contours of which are visible in the fog of rosagitprop.
- Further escalation in the area of the ZNPP (Energodar) with inciting panic both at the local level in Ukraine and Europe regarding a possible nuclear incident with unforeseen consequences and accusations by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the "Kyiv authorities" of shelling the NPP, which is a manifestation of "Kyiv nuclear terrorism."
- Disconnection of the ZNPP from the Unified Energy System of Ukraine, disconnection of part of consumers in the south of Ukraine, with subsequent connection to the Unified Energy System of the Russian Federation. Transfer of the ZNPP to the control of Russia.
- A parallel track is a pseudo-referendum on the "reunification of the region with Russia" on September 11 in order to fix the "expression of will" of the population of the occupied territories, with the subsequent rapid accession to the Russian Federation. The announcement after the "referendum" of Energodar as a zone of increased nuclear danger on the "territory of Russia" in connection with the "aggressive actions of the Armed Forces" against the "Russian nuclear energy facility and citizens of the Russian Federation" living in the territory of the Zaporizhzhia region and neighboring regions, which "are under the occupation of the Kyiv authorities".
- Further manipulations with the threat of detonation of the warheads installed at the NPP, which can be both a bluff (inevitable damage to one's own forces) and the peak of escalation foreseen in the scenario, i.e., making it impossible to storm Energodar by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as a propaganda demonstrative "terrorist strike of the Armed Forces." Turning Europe's attention away from the ZNPP by stopping the supply of gas through Nord Stream 1, which has already been announced for the end of August - the beginning of September.
- Placement (or notification without the very fact of placement) near Energodar of TNW in order to create a "protective nuclear umbrella" with a simultaneous ultimatum under the threat of its use in case of ignoring it:
- to incline Kyiv for the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of the Ukrainian Armed Forces outside the Novorossiya regions.
- to incline the USA, NATO and the EU on the termination of support to Ukraine and the return of the Alliance to the borders of 1997.
It is precisely the latter that can represent an escalating, according to the Kremlin's logic, completion of the SMO with its subsequent transformation into something that "has not yet begun." This does not change the essence of the aggression but gives the regime an indulgence for the continuation of the war on the part of Russian society.
The possibility of using TNW follows from the official documents of the Russian Federation. The "Principles of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence" of 2020 stipulates this in the case of "aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the existence of the state is threatened." In the understanding of the Kremlin’s leadership, such a threat is related to "the aggression that the USA and NATO are conducting against Russia with the hands of the Kyiv authorities." Another document "Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Naval Activities until 2030", which was adopted in 2017, provides: "In the conditions of escalation of military conflict, the demonstration of readiness and determination to use force with the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons is an effective deterrent."
Through its propaganda sources, the Kremlin justifies the need to maintain control over the ZNPP and stop "aggressive actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine" by taking care of Europe's nuclear security. This will, according to the Kremlin's logic, simultaneously demonstrate determination to the USA, NATO and the EU that Russia is ready to go to the end - the "radioactive ash" scenario.
It is unlikely that the Russian political leadership and military command will dare to use TNW, however, there is no particular doubt in their readiness to use the factor of nuclear blackmail from the standpoint of nuclear energy - the shortage of electricity in Ukraine in the autumn-winter period due to the loss of the main part of generating NPP capacities from the energy balance, as well as from the point of view of creating a projection of the threat of a low-power nuclear warhead.
Probably, the Kremlin may believe that in this way it will be possible to achieve the end of the SMO, broke the Ukrainian resistance and pull off the "restoration of Novorossiya", which was not achieved in 2014-2015. The Kremlin is probably dreaming that the Novorossiysk Federal District can be quickly formed on the basis of the territories occupied and annexed to the Russian Federation through a pseudo-referendum in the south and east of Ukraine. Thus, the ruling regime of the Russian Federation will ensure a "worthy celebration" of V. Putin's 70th birthday on October 7, 2022 as a "land collector", and S. Kiriyenko can increase his weight category in the competition for the Kremlin after Putin.
Rosatom: Sanction track for McFaul - Yermak
"We categorically deny any involvement of Rosatom or any of its employees in the management or operations of the plant at any level. " - this is a quote from a letter from Rosatom on August 19 to the European publication in "EU Observer." As is generally known, after the seizure of the ZNPP, the occupiers declared it part of Rosatom. So, this refutation shows that the Kremlin is afraid of the state nuclear corporation falling under certain restrictions. Back in May, its leader Alexei Likhachev reported to the Kremlin Fuehrer that they "see the risks." It is clear that S. Kiriyenko, as the former head of Rosatom for many years, as no one understands, that the corporation became an accomplice in the crime together with the Russian military, that is, A. Likhachev, together with the Minister of Defense S. Shoigu and S. Kiriyenko, are the organizers not only of aggression against Ukraine, but also the nuclear terror of Europe.
A series of actions by Western countries may be among the measures that are troublesome for Rosatom. First of all, it is said that the nuclear sphere should not be an exception to the regime of sanctions in the EU and the USA, since Russia has already crossed the red line and started using civil nuclear energy as a weapon. There is no need to wait for Europe's almost critical gas dependence to be supplemented by a critical level of nuclear and nuclear technology.
It is worth mentioning that the International Working Group on the issue of sanctions against Russia (the McFaul-Yermak Group) in its "Action Plan..." dated April 19 provided for sanctions against Rosatom. But they are not seen in any of the packages. Yet. And, there is a place to go further. The successful actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine under the command of Gen. V. Zaluzhnyi should be complemented by purposeful actions of the two-headed group of McFaul - Yermak.
It is necessary for Ukraine to appeal to the governments of a number of foreign countries regarding the freezing of Rosatom projects until the complete cessation of Russian aggression and the withdrawal of occupation troops from the territory of Ukraine. Officially, 36 foreign projects are called to belong to Rosatom, although a dozen and a half of them seem to exist only on paper.
It is especially necessary to demand from the hybrid friend of Ukraine, the President of France, the termination of the strategic cooperation agreement of December 2, 2021 between the French nuclear conglomerate Framatome and Rosatom. The cooperation between its subsidiary Rosenergoatom and the French EDF, should be terminated. Rosatom continues to show off the production in partnership with Areva (now Orano) of heat-releasing assemblies at Elektrostal near Moscow for 7 nuclear power units in Europe. Also, Rosatom and Alstom continue to work on the development of the turbine in Russia through the Russian-French joint venture Alstom-Atomenergomash established in 2007.
There should be a categorical demand to the European Commission, the governments of France and the United States regarding the termination of the agreement at the beginning of February 2022 for the acquisition by Rosatom with the assistance of EDF of 20% of the French turbine manufacturer GEAST (a joint venture of the American General Electric and the French Alstom). Rosatom will not be able to implement its foreign projects without Ukrainian Turboatom turbines or American-French GEAST turbines. For example, it is difficult to imagine the Akkuyu NPP project in Turkey without GEAST turbines and generators.
Russia should be excluded from the international project to build the ITER thermonuclear fusion reactor in France on the Cadarache plateau.
The Government of Ukraine should contact the European Commission and the governments of the EU member states regarding the transfer of power units with Soviet-designed VVER reactors to non-Russian fuel. After all, this is not such an insurmountable task. According to Euratom, only 18 out of 103 nuclear power units in the EU depend on Russian fuel supplies. They produce no more than 10% of all nuclear energy in the EU.
The approach to licenses previously granted by state bodies of the USA, Canada, and the EU to "daughters" and "granddaughters" of Rosatom, in particular, Techsnabexport (international brand known as TENEX) and Uranium One Inc., should be revised. The latter conduct extensive activities in the sale and extraction of uranium raw materials, increasing the volume of supplies to the USA and Europe, creating dependencies, according to a scheme similar to that implemented by Gazprom with gas supplies to the EU countries. In fact, Rosatom, destroying competition on the world market, subordinated the production of uranium-containing raw materials in Kazakhstan (the world leader) and Uzbekistan. Thus, Rosatom controls 36% of the global market. In the United States alone, acting through subsidiaries, it has 25 contracts for the supply of uranium raw materials with 19 American firms until 2028 for a total of $6.5 billion. American experts indicate that Australian and Canadian mines have recently reduced production due to the fact that Russia dumped uranium prices on the world market. Uranium One Inc. actively penetrates promising lithium projects in third countries, for example, in Argentina together with ... Canada. A direct ban on the import of uranium to the USA from Rosatom structures would be quite logical and without any particular consequences.
An example of an adequate approach to Rosatom's projects under the circumstances of Russia's war in Europe is Finland, which stopped the implementation of the joint project for the construction of the Hanhikivi-1 nuclear power plant in May of last year. Also, in 2021, the government of the Czech Republic blocked the participation of the Russian Federation in the tender for the construction of another power unit of the NPP Dukovany.
Joint actions by the EU to stop the construction project of two power units of the NPP Paks in Hungary, where Rosatom as contractor was chosen bypassing the EU-mandatory tender procedure, would be annoying for Russia. It could be two in one – a blow to Rosatom and action to destroy the Kremlin's metastasis in the center of Europe, the corruption-inducing, anti-European regime of Orban.
Another subsidiary of Rosatom - Atomflot - also appears in the mentioned Plan of the McFaul group as a candidate for sanctions. The company's vessels, both specialized icebreakers and container ships, as well as vessels of the auxiliary technical fleet, should fall under the prohibition of activities in the ports of Europe, North America, G7 countries, their maintenance, repair, etc. Atomflot should not receive any equipment from European or American companies.
It is necessary to initiate the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO, head office in London) to review the activities of its Moscow center, terminating the participation of operators from EU member states and transferring them to the Paris center accordingly.
It would be worthwhile to contact Interpol regarding the search and detention of managers and members of the Supervisory Board (9 persons), the Management Board (14 persons), the Public Council (24 persons) of Rosatom, as persons facilitating terrorist activities at the nuclear power facility in neighboring country.
Not the only sanctions
Asymmetric decisions and actions are needed. So far, these are reminiscent of the warning of British and American parliamentarians that radiation contamination of the territory of NATO member countries activates Art. 5 of the Washington Treaty. It sounds good, although this is not the opinion of parliaments, but of individual deputies. We took little comfort from that, because this is actually another delineation of the borders for the Kremlin within the framework of the "war in Ukraine." If the radiation does not get outside the borders of Ukraine, then there will be no retaliatory attack by NATO on the Russian Federation, and within the framework of the "war in Ukraine" you can do anything you want - this is how the Kremlin will understand this message.
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, together with the parliaments of a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, call on the US Congress to complete the procedure of recognizing the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism in order to prevent a dangerous scenario for Ukraine and Europe, as well as for East Asia in the event of Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
It is necessary to draw the attention of the United States that in the event of the success of the Russian nuclear escalation scenario around the ZNPP, China will use the pattern of Russian actions in order to gradually, and not at once, seize Taiwan, first by landing an amphibious assault on Taiwan's two nuclear power plants (the operational Kuosheng NPP and the decommissioned Jinshan NPP), which are conveniently located for landing operations on the sea coast in the northern part of the island, only 25 km from the capital, Taipei. The formal reason, as in the case of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is Beijing's suspicion of Taiwan's creation of nuclear weapons and the need to protect Asia from "Taipei's nuclear terrorism."
In the Black Sea, Russia can also take advantage of the experience gained in order to, in the event of a conflict with NATO, preemptively seize the Chernavoda NPP in Romania, which is located some 60 km from the coast, and present an ultimatum to the US and NATO to take away the military infrastructure from Central Europe. A similar scenario can be developed for the Baltic Sea region, for the seaside NPPs of the newcomers of the Alliance: Finland’s Loviisa NPP and Olkiluoto NPP and Sweden’s Forsmark NPP and Oskarhamn NPP.
It would be worth encouraging our partners to work out non-standard measures - restricting access (blockade) to the Kaliningrad region, as well as the Russian naval base Tartus in Syria. The blockade of the Kaliningrad exclave can be practiced as countermeasures in the context of the Russian May exercises in the territory of the region, when "electronic" single and group launches were carried out at targets simulating missile launchers, airfields, protected facilities, military equipment accumulations and command posts of neighboring of NATO countries - Poland and Lithuania - "under conditions of radiation and chemical contamination of the area".
It is these or similar actions that can break the Kremlin's "Cuban Crisis-2" scenario. Appeals, even when they come from the four heads of state and government, as well as concerns and deep concerns, have long had no effect on the Kremlin.
What not to do
- To keep in Energoatom and the Ministry of Energy Russian metastases of Derkach's accomplices and their curators in the Pechersk hills.
- Relying on the dysfunctional UN and IAEA and their assistance. The international bureaucracy, riddled with Russian corruption, works primarily for itself.
- To agree to options such as "recognition of Crimea as Russian in exchange for the voluntary transfer of control over the ZNPP to Ukraine with the withdrawal of Russian troops" to the chorus of Putin's Western allies about "preventing a global catastrophe," promises of the Nobel Peace Prize to those who overcome the "Cuban Crisis-2" and save world from "nuclear winter"
- Forget the genius of Sun Tzu: "War is a way of trickery and deception" and both enemies and hybrid friends’ resort to this.
 Translator’s note: rosagitprop (from Russian: росагитпроп – российская агитация и пропаганда) – Russian agitation and propaganda