ukraine war

American Officials Are Increasingly Anxious About Russia’s Nukes

Putin hasn’t been showing a lot of restraint lately. Photo: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

In a rather alarming New York Times story about American officials’ increasing worry that Russia will begin using nonconventional weapons of war in Ukraine, one paragraph stood out.

The piece begins with the news that Russian officials are claiming Ukraine might use a “dirty bomb,” which consists of conventional explosives laced with radioactive material. There is no evidence that Ukraine plans to do any such thing; instead, the accusation is seen as possible preemptive justification for Russia itself to use such a weapon against Ukraine. Unleashing that weapon would mark a major escalation of the war, but American officials worry that Russia might also be making its baseless accusation against Ukraine as a distraction from something much worse:

That possibility only heightened concerns among already jittery senior Pentagon officials about Russia’s next possible step up the escalation ladder. One senior U.S. official said there were new, troubling developments involving Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The official asked for anonymity and declined to provide any details, given the sensitivity of the issue.

The rest of the story — and other recent articles on the subject from other publications — seemed consistent with the official American line in recent months, which is that there has been no visible change in Russia’s nuclear posture that would cause the U.S. to believe a strike is in the works. And it is difficult to decipher the accuracy or motives of one anonymous official. Still, even the hint of any movement on the nuclear front is obviously cause for concern.

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U.S. Officials Are Increasingly Anxious About Russia’s Nukes