US considering responses to possible Russian escalation in Ukraine, including its potential use of tactical nuclear weapons



CNN

With growing concerns over Vladimir Putin’s escalating Russian war in Ukraine, the United States is considering how to respond to a range of potential scenarios, including fears that the Russians may use nuclear weapons tactics, according to three sources briefed on the latest information.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the United States has developed contingency plans to respond, including the possibility that the Russian president could escalate a step just before a nuclear attack on Ukraine, through what a source described as a “nuclear demonstration”, such as a potential military strike on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, or the detonation of a nuclear device at high altitudes or away from populated areas.

Officials warn that the United States has not detected preparations for a nuclear strike. However, experts see them as potential options for the United States to prepare for as the Russian invasion wanes and Moscow annexes more Ukrainian territory.

US officials also took a grim note of the Russian president’s repeated public threats to use nuclear weapons. In a televised address late last month, Putin said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will undoubtedly use all available means to protect Russia and our people. It’s not a bluff. »

At a ceremony on Friday in which he announced the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Putin said Russia would use “all available means” to defend the areas, adding that the United States had “created a precedent” for nuclear attacks in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

“Putin is capable of anything,” Democratic Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. While noting that there is no evidence yet of any such attack being prepared, Quigley added, “You have to take it seriously.”

The United States is studying the range of potential scenarios in order to put contingency plans in place for how it and its partners would respond to such attacks. The possibility of a “nuclear demonstration” is seen as an option if Putin stops short of ordering a nuclear strike on Ukrainian forces or population centers, opting instead for what one official described as a “show of bravado”.

A nuclear strike is still considered unlikely, although US officials’ concern about the possibility of such an attack has grown in recent weeks. “Defeat,” a source briefed on the intelligence said, “is not an option for Putin.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in an exclusive interview with CNN on Sunday that he had seen nothing to suggest Putin had decided to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

“To be clear, the guy making this decision, I mean, he’s a man,” Austin said of Russian nuclear weapons threats in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

“There is no control over Mr. Putin. Just like he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, you know, he could make another decision. But I don’t see anything at the moment that leads me to believe that he made such a decision.”

While there has been growing public opposition to the war in Russia, the United States believes Putin is coming under greater pressure from hardline nationalists, who are calling for a further escalation of the conflict., said a source familiar with the information.

Asked about CNN’s “New Day” reporting on Monday, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said the United States was watching Russia’s actions “closely” at the power plant. Zaporizhzhia, fearing that Putin would escalate his war with Ukraine, and “thought” about responding to any potential use of nuclear weapons by Russia.

Although the United States saw nothing that changed the American strategic position, “we are monitoring this as closely as possible,” Kirby said, adding, “We take these threats seriously.”

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