Observations of an expat: Putin’s Samson option

The Samson Option is a not widely known Armageddon-type Israeli nuclear strategy. The world is worried that Vladimir Putin will adopt it and adapt it to the current crisis.

The strategy is based on the dramatic suicide story of the Biblical strongman Samson.

Shorn of his locks, blinded and a prisoner of the Philistines, the once powerful Samson was brought in chains to the temple of his enemies. He appeared weak, but he retained enough of his strength to throw his chains around the temple pillars and pulled with all his might so that the walls and roof came crashing down, killing the Philistines – and Samson.

Translated into the 21st  century military terms, the Samson Option says that if the State of Israel is being overrun and about to cease to exist, the Israelis will use their nuclear arsenal of several hundred missiles and warheads to destroy the invading enemy – and themselves.

Israel’s Arab neighbours believe the threat and it has successfully deterred a serious attack ever since it became known that the Jewish state possessed nuclear weapons.

For Israel, the Samson Option is a last ditch deterrent defensive strategy. They do not intend to use nuclear weapons offensively.

Vladimir Putin’s adaptation is a different case. It has elements of defensiveness but it is linked to his military offensive in Ukraine (and possibly elsewhere in Eastern Europe). This strategy is made more dangerous by tough opposition in Ukraine and the world’s reaction to his invasion and by Putin’s terrifying statement: “if the world does not include Russia why should it exist.”

Additional anxiety is created by the fact that Putin, like so many dictators, has conflated his country’s national interests with his own survival. Furthermore, he sincerely believes in “Russia’s historic mission” to dominate Europe. Conversely, he is convinced that NATO and the EU are thwarting that “historic mission” and in doing so threatening the Russian state which must expand and dominate to survive.

The terrifying conundrum that the world faces is that Putin has placed himself and his country in a position where he must not fail. The West, however, must ensure that he does fail and, is seen to fail.

At the moment, the Russian president is failing in Ukraine. He deluded himself into believing that the close cultural and historical links between Russia and Ukraine would lead the Ukrainian people to realise the error of their ways and welcome Russian troops as liberators. As for the West, he was convinced that they were weak, divided and frustrated by fruitless wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Putin’s miscalculation was colossal. The Ukrainians are valiantly fighting back. A fever of bipartisanship has broken out in Washington and London. The EU has broken precedent to send $500 million worth of military equipment to Ukraine. Germany has overnight raised its defence spending to two percent of GDP. Sweden and Finland are considering joining NATO. There are plans afoot to fast track Ukrainian membership of the EU. Company after company, country after country are applying horrific sanctions or pulling their businesses out of Russia.  The rouble is collapsing. Almost all of the Russian stock pile of $1.6 trillion in foreign reserves has either been frozen or is disappearing to pay for the war and support for the rouble.

Putin is facing an economic, political, military – and perhaps most of all – personal Armageddon. He is fast approaching the unpalatable choice fight or die.

In the last few days the Russians have increased the ferocity of their attacks. There is evidence that they have started using cluster bombs which are banned by a 2008 international agreement, albeit one which Moscow has refused to sign. They are clearly attacking civilian targets in several cities and towns. This is a war crime. That Rubicon has been crossed.

But despite the increased attacks, there is no sign of a Ukrainian surrender or a Western collapse.  So Putin has the following options: Increase the ferocity of the attacks against Ukraine. Launch cyber-attacks against the West. Stop Russian gas and oil exports to Europe.

It appears that for the time being the energy trade has been largely compartmentalised. Both sides need it. Cyber-attacks are a strong possibility but the West is on high alert with blocking and counter measures.

This leaves escalating the attacks in Ukraine. Tanks, cruise missiles, cluster bombs have all been used. What is next? Possibly a thermobaric bomb. This is an explosive device that ignites the oxygen around a target and creates a firestorm which sucks the air out of the lungs of anyone in the area. Russia has used thermobaric bombs in Chechnya and Syria. Syrian rebels are still fighting. Chechnya continues to simmer. It is unlikely that the Western-backed Ukrainians will be stopped by a thermobaric bomb.

The next frightening step is battlefield nuclear weapons. Putin has ordered his nuclear forces to high alert. There is a whole array of such weapons available to Vladimir Putin involving torpedoes, landmines, depth charges, artillery shells surface to air missiles, air to air missiles and hand-held launchers. There is the neutron bomb and Special Atomic Demolitions. Many of them can be armed with conventional and nuclear warheads. The nuclear explosive yield of a tactical or battlefield nuclear weapon can be up to 10 kilotons which is about 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Russia is believed to have 2,000 battlefield nuclear weapons.

The next step up is intermediate range nuclear (INF) weapons. These have a range of 600-1,900 miles. They are designed to be used in a cross-border European war. These weapons were meant to be assigned to the nuclear dustbin by the 1987 INF Treaty, but in 2008 Russia started developing and deploying new INF weapons including the SSC-8, the SS-25 and the RS-26. The nuclear capable Iskander-M is sort of halfway between a tactical and intermediate range weapon with a range of up to 300 miles. It is deployed in Russian-annexed Crimea. The INF Treaty was scrapped by the US in 2019 because of Russian violations.

The final terrifying escalation is strategic nuclear weapons. Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal with 5,997 warheads.

This is why NATO doesn’t want to risk their troops facing Russian troops either in the air, land or at sea. But if a frustrated Putin uses nukes against the Ukrainians then….

 

 

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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21 Comments

  • Nothing personal, but I don’t find articles like this (and there are plenty of them across the media) do anything other than increase anxiety/fear.
    We all know Russia has nukes, and this might escalate to WWIII. Or it might not. There’s nothing any of us can do about it.
    Speculating about all the dreadful scenarios that MIGHT happen is just depressing.
    How about some of the others? Putin could be assassinated; he looks il, maybe he could drop dead; there could be a coup; or a mutiny; China could decide to rein him in…
    We simply don’t know. So maybe let’s stick to focussing on what IS happening, rather than on what might.

  • Barry Lofty 4th Mar '22 - 5:46pm

    I agree with Cassie, I think we all have a good idea about what could happen, on top of all the other problems we mere mortals are having to face at this time we could all do with a bit of positivity at the moment even if we might be deluding ourselves Tom!

  • With respect have to disagree, we need to realistically face the full consequences, we did during the Cuba crisis and it was thankfully resolved, those of us of that vintage well recall the moment the Russian vessels turned back.

  • Brad Barrows 4th Mar '22 - 6:11pm

    An interesting read, but a more likely outcome is that Kyiv and other cities will be surrounded and those who do not wish to fight will be allowed to leave through safe corridors. Then the Russians will move in to take control, destroying and killing as they deem necessary. Once Russian military objectives are achieved, Putin will be open to a ceasefire while ‘peace’ is agreed. The Ukrainians will have the choice to either accept territorial concessions or to continue to endure death and destruction on a massive scale. Putin will capture territory and will be happy if the people who oppose Russian rule are either dead or refugees living elsewhere.

  • Yeovil Yokel 4th Mar '22 - 6:28pm

    This idea that Russia might escalate the conflict and use nuclear weapons is needlessly alarmist. Putin does not have his finger literally hovering over some sort of ‘nuclear button’. Even if he were to give the command, would his military commanders, knowing what sort of response might ensue and that their own personnel would be targeted with devastating force, execute his orders?

  • The only way this can end is to keep squeezing Russia’s economy to the point of collapse and to employ further sanctions on Russian Oligarchs and their entire families, revoke their visas and expel their entire families from the country hit them with travel bans.

    This needs to be adopted by every single country working together on this. Obviously, the likes of China and Venezuela etc will not agree.

    It is pointless being a Billionaire if you have nowhere in the world to go to spend your money to enjoy the finer things in life and risk your lovely boat being seized and all you have left to look forward to, is China or Eritrea.

    Its pointless being a Putin enabler with corruptly obtained Billions if his actions prevent you from enjoying it, which is why deep down I dont think there would ever be a Nuclear War, they wouldn’t allow him to push the button and I would hope Military commanders have already been told to ignore any commands that said otherwise
    More pressure needs to be put on them to get rid of Putin

  • Our Government needs to get on with the job of applying the sanctions and seizing the assets NOW and any legal firm that stands in the way or gets involved needs sanctions applied to them as well.
    For once I hope that we can all agree in this party that extreme circumstances require extreme measures and to heck with the consequences legally.

    I hope we are not going to start hearing people making Liberal arguments against any measures we NEED to take to bring this conflict to an end asap and restore the safety of the world

  • Barry Lofty 4th Mar '22 - 6:45pm

    [email protected] I recall all that only too well???

  • Barry Lofty 4th Mar '22 - 7:03pm

    Matt: And I not against the NEED for all the means to bring this conflict to an end, that is not what I am saying!?

  • @Barry.

    My comment was not directed at you or anyone else for that matter, I was just responding to the article 🙂

    I’m not going to pretend to know anything about Russia, its politics or its people.

    It just seems to me though that the only hope we have is to hit the Oligarchs and ALL their families, so they have nowhere to go to spend their ill-gotten Billions, whats the point of wealth without luxuries?

    And we need to be globally putting more pressure on Western companies who are trading in Russia to shut up shop with immediate effect. Shut the Mcdonalds, Starbucks the Ikea’s… The Russian people in Russia who are allowing themselves to buy into the narrative of what they are being told by Putin need to see on the ground the effects that this war is having.
    We need them to rise against their own Government and tell them this is not a world that we want to live in

  • Barry Lofty 4th Mar '22 - 7:39pm

    Thanks for that Matt!

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Mar '22 - 7:46pm

    @matt
    “And we need to be globally putting more pressure on Western companies who are trading in Russia to shut up shop with immediate effect. Shut the Mcdonalds, Starbucks the Ikea’s…”
    IKEA is shutting stores in Russia and Belarus.
    However https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/mcdonalds-under-fire-failing-boycott-26384122
    https://www.reddit.com/r/starbucks/comments/t6fk09/starbucks_is_still_in_russia_boycott/

  • @Noncon

    These companies need to be brought under more pressure to do the right thing.
    They have to be made to realise that Governments alone cannot fight this
    Sanctions on individuals are not enough.
    Companies have to take a stand as well and cease trading on the ground in Russia.

    With nowhere to go for the Oligarchs to spend their wealth and flout their luxury, their wealth is irrelevant.
    For the ordinary Citizen of Russia ( for whom are not to blame for this war) need to see what communist Russia cut off from the rest of the world is going to look like, not in 6 months, or a year or 2 years time, but now immediately, and the only way to do that is for western companies and brands to close up shop willingly… Then hopefully the Russian people will take a stand against their government.

    The Likes of Mcdonalds and other western Brands need to take a stand now and put Globally security before profits, because its only going to take the first nuke to go off to put an end to their brand across the world anyway, so take the stand now

  • The report of a survivor of the Nazi siege of Leningrad being arrested in St. Petersburg https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/world-news/elderly-survivor-of-nazi-siege-of-leningrad-arrested-for-protesting-ukraine-war-314593/ was a defining moment.
    Putin has unleashed on Ukraine’s cities the same kind of terror Hitler unleashed on Leningrad. The Putin regime is using eerily similar repression of dissent and propaganda to that of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR.
    The V2 bomb came too late in the war to turn the tide for Hitler, but Putin has far more destructive weapons available to him. Neither the disillusioned and war weary German people nor the Wehrmacht were able to stop Hitler. It took the joint efforts of the Allies and I fear that this is what will again be required.

  • I am not surprised at some of your comments about alarmism. I thought long and hard about writing this article because yes, it is alarming. It is terrifying. It is detailing a worse case scenario and implying that we have to do everything possible short of committing troops to stop this war. We as individuals have to be willing to make sacrifices because if we don’t we run the risk of being sacrificed by Putin. This means publicly spelling out that nuclear war is a real possibility. That the hands of the atomic clock have moved frighteningly closer to midnight and that we need be very worried. Worried into uniting and doing something about it. So, no apologies.

  • Peter Chambers 5th Mar '22 - 12:59pm

    Tom, I think the yield of the Hiroshima blast was 14 kilotons. So the tactical weapons you mention are comparable to those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was these that prompted many people to say “Never Again”.
    That is the nuclear threshold and that must be crossed. Below that free nations must do everything to show Putin that he must lose. This includes sanctions, taking in refugees, diplomacy. Most significantly things must be done promptly.

  • @Peter My understanding is that there is a wide spread of warheads and delivery systems available to the Russians. Some have a lower explosive yield than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some about the same and others much, much bigger. All of them are extremely dangerous and could lead to a rapid escalation to strategic weapons. Quite honestly, I think that using tactical nuclear weapons with a bigger explosive yield than that used by the US against Japan would be counterproductive and defy both common sense and common humanity. But that has not stopped Putin so far.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Mar '22 - 4:20pm

    Total understanding of both this article and reations.

    I agree with nealy every point. But as often, with Matt in this.

    We must see our way to do everything to encourage the people of Russia to depose Putin soon. He is not as popu;lar as thought. He fiddles election results. Opposition is strong. We must destroy their economy, but in a way it can bounce quickly from, once the regime is finished.

    Boycott Russia, must be complete. Companies based in our weestern countries must be sanctioned if they do not, or boycotted imediately. I loathe the inaction of those with self interest.

    I feel due to absurd exageration on climate targets, countries need Russia, China.

    Only those in the centre ground, can say told you so, because self sufficiency is not econoimc self interest, or survival of the fittest.

    It is survival of the planet! Not based on climate change, based on nuclear war!

  • Thank you Lorenzo and all those who commented positively and negatively. The primary purpose of observations of an expat is contribute to foreign policy debate. It is not necessarily to offer cast-iron solution. Hopefully out of debate will emerge a workable consensus. BTW, if anyone wants to contact me direct I can be emailed at [email protected]. I enjoy giving lectures on world affairs. Lorenzo, I thought I might be a useful speaker at one of your forums.

  • We need a list of Businesses who have operations in Russia and the contact details for their CEO’s and to then share it on social media and encourage people to email the company asking them to cease trading with immediate effect in Russia until Putin pulls his Troops out of Ukraine and restores world security.

    I think we all have a duty to put pressure on these companies asking them to do the right thing in the interest of global security, they cannot sit back and allow Governments to take sole responsibility for putting pressure on Putin. WE ALL need to be doing it

    I will start:

    Chris Kempczinski President and Chief Executive Officer for McDonalds
    [email protected] <[email protected]

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Mar '22 - 5:12pm

    Tom

    Funny, thought of you for this myself, the Ustinov Forum has mainly been discussion, polemic, in writing, contributing articles, ideas. But I am currently developing plans for regular talks, interviews, discussions. As I am now coordinator of activities, I shall be in touch with you Tom, for your contribution , probably an interview, discussion one to one, would be excellent. Thanks.

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