Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is not bluffing with his latest threat to use nuclear weapons in his war against Ukraine, but former U.N. Ambassador and national security adviser John Bolton told Newsmax on Thursday that Putin is, indeed, bluffing — at least "right now."
Putin's war has turned embarrassingly against him, leading to a nationally televised speech on Wednesday in which he announced the largest mobilization of military reservists since World War II and conscriptions that sent military-age men fleeing for the borders.
Still, Bolton said on "The Record With Greta Van Susteren," "I think right now he is bluffing.
"My view is that it's not a serious threat until Russian troops are completely routed on the battlefield fleeing back towards Russia or Ukrainian forces are about to cross the border."
At that point, Bolton said, Putin's circumstances would be so bad that the West would have to take him seriously because of the threat to the military and the threat to Putin domestically.
Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons several times since the initial invasion in late February, and experts believe his statement that the latest threat "is not a bluff" is because U.S. and NATO allies have continued sending military aid to Ukraine unabated with Putin never following up on his previous threats.
"We're closer today than we've been before because of the collapse of Russia's forces in the north," Bolton said. "But right now, I think he's trying to intimidate the West, trying to prevent the supply of additional weapons, trying to slow it down, at least until he can regroup and rebuff this latest Ukrainian advance."
Asked whether Putin's move could come sooner rather than later considering Ukraine's recent string of battlefield successes, Bolton acknowledged: "It's possible.
"There's no bottom to which the Russian forces can't fall in their incompetence in waging this war," he said. "I must say, every time you think it can't get any worse [for them], it does."
That said, the Russians are now in defensive positions along much of the front line, so that the Ukrainians have a much more serious issue with pushing them back and simply holding out themselves, Bolton said. "And if this mobilization in Russia succeeds, which remains to be seen, there will be a lot more Russians on the battlefield. Whether they're prepared to fight, we don't know yet."
As for a coup that could overthrow Putin, Bolton sees that more likely coming from military leaders who don't like how things are going on the battlefield rather than from his inner circle.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is a longtime loyalist who is unlikely to be at the center of a coup, he said.
Another vulnerability for Putin is his allies who keep meeting mysterious deaths, something with which Putin has a long history, Bolton noted.
"I think it does underline a potential vulnerability for Putin, not that he would be the victim of people who opposed the war," he said, "But he could well be in jeopardy politically from people who support the war but see him failing. Two very different reasons, but that's the kind of squeeze that could leave him in a very difficult position domestically.''
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