Russian President Vladimir Putin looks politically unassailable. Photo: AFP.

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
— President Ronald Reagan

We’ve all heard the rumors out of Russia.

President Vladimir Putin is not well, and he is being pressured to step down – in fact, sources say he may have cancer, Parkinson’s, or even both.

Who knows if it’s true or not. The Kremlin has, of course, denied it.

It’s bad enough, that the president of the free world, Donald Trump, is in denial over the US election result.

Now we hear that Putin may be done for as well. Two world leaders, not quite sane … not quite playing with a full deck of cards, as they say.

One thing is true, Russia has taken a strange turn toward Armageddon.

According to state-run TASS, President Putin said, “Russia has considerably expanded the analytical and operational capabilities of the strategic nuclear forces’ command and control systems …”

It added that Russia “has considerably modernized stationary and mobile command and control centers, expanded their analytical and operational capabilities, including information provision, monitoring and situational analysis.”

A message to the Americans, no less.

As in the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, the Russians eye moving their command and control deep underground, where no American weapon can touch it.

World War III? The Russians plan to survive it.

Let’s listen to Mr Putin’s own words to get an idea of where his head is:

“First of all, we need to work seriously to boost the survivability of the control systems. We all realize this, and we are aware that a lot depends on the survivability of these systems and their ability to continue operating in a combat environment. In fact, we have to guarantee this even in the event of a nuclear strike.

“They have told me that the creation of an absolutely secure facility for controlling strategic nuclear forces, among others, is nearing completion and that it will have a very high safety margin.

“Secondly, we should constantly check the efficiency of the main components of the systems for controlling strategic nuclear forces during command post exercises and other events, including unexpected challenge inspections for assessing the triad’s combat readiness that has already become regular.

“Thirdly, we have to continue developing advanced systems for controlling strategic forces. What we are talking about is that we are doing the right things today, and these systems are in a good state.

“However, no matter how modern and advanced they may be today, we cannot remain idle, and we all realize this. We need to think about what happens tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

The reason Putin spent very great sums to build a new nuclear-bomb-proof deep underground bunker for nuclear command and control is of great concern, according to a report in Real Clear Defense.

There is an enormous difference between modernizing Soviet-era facilities and building completely new, very expensive ones that “will have a very high safety margin” against nuclear attack.

Is his actual nuclear-weapons first-use threshold lower than what is contained in Russia’s public decree? For the sake of humanity, the implications of Russia’s new nuclear-bomb-proof bunkers should be seriously examined.

The news comes on the heels of another startling development.

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Pablo Landeros, from Bakersfield, California, conducts a pre-aim calibration test from aboard the Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer John McCain. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Ricardo R Guzma

According to Radio Free Europe, the Russian military has announced the deployment of advanced air-defense missiles to the Kurile Islands claimed by Japan.

The S-300V4 air-defense missile systems have entered combat duty on the Kurile Islands, in addition to the shorter-range Tor-M2 missile systems deployed there earlier, Russia’s Eastern Military District said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s TV station, Zvezda, reported that the air-defense missile systems were deployed on Iturup, one of the four southernmost Kurile Islands.

Shockingly, an unhinged Russia bent on nuclear annihilation has continued to build up its forces on the islands, including stationing advanced fighter jets and anti-ship missiles.

The Soviet Union seized the Kuriles in the final days of World War II from Japan, which continues to assert territorial rights to the islands it calls the Northern Territories.

In other words, they stole it, and they won’t give it back.

The dispute has kept Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty formally ending the war, and decades of diplomatic efforts to negotiate a fair settlement.

Tokyo is highly sensitive to military moves by Moscow on the strategically important chain of islands that stretch northeast from Japan’s Hokkaido to the Russian Far East.

And now, of course, we have the incident with the USS John S McCain.

The Admiral Vinogradov, a Russian destroyer, verbally warned the USS John S McCain that it would be rammed if it didn’t leave the area after it violated the boundary by more than a mile, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry.

The McCain, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, immediately returned to neutral waters after the warning, so says the Kremlin, which seems itching for a fight.

The area in question has been claimed by Russia as part of its territorial waters since 1984, but the US does not recognize that claim.

The US Navy pushed back against the Russian allegations, USNI reported.

“The Russian Federation’s statement about this mission is false. USS John S McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory. McCain conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and continued to conduct normal operations in international waters,” the statement reads.

“The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle, and the United States will never bow in intimidation or be coerced into accepting illegitimate maritime claims, such as those made by the Russian Federation.”

Nevertheless, the image of a “Crazy Ivan” lingers.

Terrorism is no longer the biggest threat facing the US, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said during a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. Threats from Russia are increasing, and the Navy must reorganize to address them.

Russian moves in the Atlantic and Arctic, have also forced the US military to bring back the Atlantic Fleet, Military.com reported.

When sailors leave the East Coast, they should now expect to be operating in a contested space, Vice Admiral Andrew “Woody” Lewis, 2nd Fleet’s commander, said this spring.

“Our ships can no longer expect to operate in a safe haven on the East Coast, or merely cross the Atlantic unhindered to operate in another location,” he said.

Has Putin lost his marbles? Kremlin watchers aren’t really sure.

But if the allegations of his ailing health are true – apparently, his young mistress, the beautiful and seductive Alina Kabaeva, and his two daughters have begged him to step down – US military planners, the Central Intelligence Agency and others are no doubt taking note.

It makes sense, actually – Putin knows he doesn’t have much time left, so he is leaving Russia in a strong position.

The endgame is clear; expect more of the same.