I’m so old that I can remember the Cold War and the nuclear deterrence doctrine called MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. This was the simple idea that if country R launched a major nuclear missile attack on country A, country A would do the same against country R. And they’d both get blown to smithereens.

See also Dr Strangelove:

Under deterrence doctrine the deterring power of your Doomsday Weapon is rather lost if you don’t tell the other side you have it. QED.

Anyway, after the Cold War ended we dropped MAD and opted for Big MAC: Mutually Assured Cooperation. All sides invest in each other’s prosperity by trade and capital flows.

And Big MAC is the gift that keeps on giving! As each year goes by the benefits of stability and peace grow exponentially. Why fight when that will put at risk those colossal gains in all-round wealth and stability? Jaw-jaw and more-more rather than war-war. Fighting on any scale that matters will indeed be mad. Grotesquely self-destructive. See the European Union passim.

Now Russia’s Ukraine invasion has wrecked in a mere days those three decades of balmy post-Cold War confidence-building. We’ve hurtled back to MAD at an alarming rate. Chemical weapons are bad enough. But is a desperate Russia’s use of (say) tactical nuclear weapons in Europe any longer close to negligible? What if it in fact happens? How to ‘calibrate’ a military response that both deters further nuclear attacks by Russia and does not leave V Putin feeling compelled to escalate in a wildly MAD direction?

* * * * *

And so to ‘negotiations’.

As previously spelled out here, talks are just talks. The war itself is the only negotiation that matters. Russia and Ukraine are testing to the absolute limit the ability and willingness of each other to deliver and withstand pain.

Both sides are forced to think the unthinkable. At what point do their own military losses and human suffering reach the point that core principles just have to be dropped? And how to drop them without looking humiliated or just weak?

Of course the situation is not symmetrical. It’s Russia that’s demolishing and ‘punishing’ large areas of Ukraine. So it’s Ukraine that stands to lose great swathes of territory if it capitulates. Hence the argument that Ukraine must not surrender an inch of land, come what may:

It is impossible for Ukraine to accept any of Russia’s ultimatums. Not the recognition of the so-called “republics” within the borders of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, not the annexation of Crimea, and not the demilitarisation of Ukraine.

Kyiv understands that these concessions will not bring any security and in no way will they guarantee the withdrawal of Russian troops. Moreover, these “compromises” will not prevent a new Russian attack. To the contrary, they can only provoke a new Russian offensive against Ukraine.

If this position is accepted, the only way forward is to try to force Russian troops to leave Ukrainian territory completely. Any ‘ceasefire’ simply allows the Kremlin to consolidate its grip on whatever land it currently controls and bring in reinforcements.

Ukraine can back up its attempts to change the facts on the ground by making bringing home to Moscow that even if Russia manages to take some sort of unambiguous control over any Ukraine territory and eg tries to impose a ‘Two-Koreas’ type outcome, it will face a grim and doomed task in holding on to that territory in the face of unrelenting sabotage and insurgency.

Does that mean that Kyiv and Moscow have nothing to talk about as far as territory goes? Not necessarily. Within a wider settlement that guarantees Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders and closely defined ‘neutrality’, Kyiv might contemplate according Crimea and Luhansk/Donetsk some sort of ‘special autonomy’ and added formalised links to Russia. See eg the arrangements agreed for Republika Srpska as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina to have ‘special relations with Serbia. Plenty of other precedents can be pulled from the cunning diplomat’s bran-tub.

But Kyiv gets nowhere near persuading Moscow to agree to any of that while Moscow has its boot pressing down hard on Ukraine’s neck. In the eyes of the Stalinised 2.0 Russian nationalist fanatics occupying the Kremlin, military losses would have be on a giddying scale for Russia to ‘surrender’ any territorial gains it has hitherto made.

So on the war goes, with the power of Ukraine’s small mobile hi-precision munitions set against Russia’s larger old-style tanks and artillery and Soviet-era tactical instincts. The civilian death-toll and the staggering refugee numbers just grow and grow as part of Russia’s ‘punishment‘ policy.

Now we’re hearing today that Moscow really is threatening to cut off European gas supplies if payment is not made in roubles (ie on terms more favourable to Russia). This in turn is part of the wider negotiation going on between Russia and The West: both sides are testing each other’s ability to take pain.

This is a nimble and cheering account of why Russia’s industry faces ruinous problems because of Western sanctions. But if you Europeans use gas to cook and heat your homes, maybe think about switching to firewood?

MAED – my old beloved FCO Maritime Aviation and Environment Department? Or Mutually Assured Economic Destruction?