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HomeInternationalBiden questions Putin claim Russia won't use nuclear weapons in Ukraine

Biden questions Putin claim Russia won’t use nuclear weapons in Ukraine

The Kremlin has stoked growing nuclear fears as its military retreats on the battlefield and disquiet grows at home, with Russian officials repeatedly suggesting that it would be willing to use nuclear weapons to protect annexed territory where Ukrainian forces are making gains.

In an address to the nation last month, Putin said that if Russia’s “territorial integrity” was threatened, “we will certainly use all the means at our disposal” to retaliate — and added that “it’s not a bluff.”

Washington has made clear it has warned Russia there will be “catastrophic” consequences if it uses nuclear weapons, but U.S. officials and experts have downplayed any imminent threat.

Putin observed exercises by Russia’s strategic nuclear forces Wednesday, with two U.S. officials telling NBC News that Moscow had informed the U.S. about the annual drills, as it is obliged to do under the New START Nuclear Treaty. The officials said the U.S. has no indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon inside Ukraine but they continue to watch the situation closely.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a Pentagon briefing Thursday that the U.S. has not seen anything to indicate Russia is using the exercise as cover to launch a nuclear strike. Austin added that the U.S. is concerned about the conflict in Ukraine escalating but said there are still no indications Russia is planning to use a nuclear weapon.

In recent days the focus of international concern has been on Russian claims that Ukraine could detonate a “dirty bomb” to frame Moscow — an allegation dismissed by Kyiv and the West as baseless and a potential “false-flag” operation or effort to build a pretext for Russian escalation.

Putin repeated the accusation in his speech Thursday.

“Kyiv is seeking some kind of nuclear incident to inflate a new round of struggle against Russia,” he said.

“It’s not for nothing that we said about the “dirty bomb” that Kyiv is creating, we even know where it is being made,” the Russian leader said. “I instructed Shoigu to call foreign colleagues and warn them about the threat of this provocation,” Putin added, referring to the sudden flurry of calls from his defense minister that sparked alarm in Western capitals.

A dirty bomb, also known as a “radiological dispersion device,” is a conventional weapon that has been augmented with a radioactive material. Traditionally, security experts have warned of dirty bombs’ being used by terrorist groups instead of militaries. 

Asked about the Russian claims earlier this week, Biden said he had “spent a lot of time” talking about the subject on Tuesday.

“Let me just say: Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake for it to use a tactical nuclear weapon, the president added. “I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false-flag operation yet; I don’t know. But it would be a serious, serious mistake.”

Courtney Kube contributed.

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