Vladimir Putin’s top military men discussed using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to multiple senior US officials. The fact that Moscow’s senior leadership discussed escalating to such extreme measures showed how frustrated the Kremlin is with the progress of the war, according to the administration.
“The talk of the use of a weapon of that sort is dangerous and irresponsible,” Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters last week while Biden warned Russia that the use of such a weapon would have “catastrophic” consequences.
Vladimir Putin was not personally privy to the discussion surrounding the use of nuclear weapons, according to the officials who spoke to the NYTimes. The Russian President would ultimately have the final say in deploying such a weapon, irrespective of his generals’ views.
However, the fact that senior military leadership in Russia were discussing the use of tactical nuclear weapons has raised the possibility that increasingly hostile rhetoric around nukes from Moscow might not be a bluff.
Even still, American officials have said that there is no evidence that Russia is immediately preparing to use a tactical nuke and believe the likelihood remains low.
The intelligence began circulating in mid-October, when Russia was pushing erroneous claims that Ukraine intended to detonate a “dirty bomb”, or a conventional weapon used to spread radioactive material across an area.
The intelligence reportedly began circulating in mid-October, when Russia was pushing erroneous claims that Ukraine intended to detonate a “dirty bomb”, or a conventional weapon used to spread radioactive material across an area.
Western and Ukrainian officials have dismissed those claims as baseless. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters last Thursday: “We have not seen anything to indicate that Putin has made a decision to use a dirty bomb.”
However, he warned the administration had been “concerned about escalation” since the war started and remained so.
Tactical nuclear weapons are smaller than their strategic counterparts and are meant to be used on the battlefield.
Russia has around 2,000 tactical nukes compared to the US’s 200, which are mostly in Europe.
The use of a nuclear weapon for the first time in more than 75 years would likely change the face of the war and the world.
The yield of tactical nuclear weapons can range from under one kiloton to around 50 kilotons, for comparison the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were around 15 to 20 kilotons.
The response of the West if Russia were to detonate a nuclear weapon remains one of strategic ambiguity. However, retired US Army general David Petraeus warned that NATO would likely engage Russian forces in Ukraine.
“Just to give you a hypothetical, we would respond by leading a NATO – a collective – effort that would take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield in Ukraine and also in Crimea and every ship in the Black Sea,” he told ABC News.