US responds to alleged 'Russian nuclear weapons' risk – Politico
The US and its allies have increased intelligence gathering and surveillance over concerns that Russia could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, an American official has told Politico.
The West is worried that signs of Moscow deciding to “unleash the unthinkable” might “come too late,” according to the news outlet’s sources, cited in an article on Tuesday.
The ramping up of spying activities occurred after an address by Vladimir Putin a week ago, in which he slammed “some senior officials in NATO states” for suggesting that using nuclear weapons against Russia was justified. He made it clear that such a move won’t be left unanswered, noting that Russia has its own arsenal of destructive weapons, some of which surpass their Western-counterparts. “If the territorial integrity of our nation is threatened, we will certainly use all the means that we have to defend Russia and our people. It’s not a bluff,” the president said.
However, Putin’s words were interpreted by politicians and media in the US and EU as a “veiled threat” that Russia could deploy nuclear weapons during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“We’re watching it more closely,” a US government official with “access to intelligence on Moscow’s nuclear forces and strategy” told Politico.
According to the official, additional US and allied intelligence assets — in the air, space and cyberspace – are monitoring Russia’s activities. The West has also increased reliance on commercial Earth-imaging satellites to watch Russian units in Ukraine that could potentially receive a nuclear order from Moscow.
Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast, has also been attracting increased attention from Western intelligence agencies, due to the dual-use weapons systems and hypersonic missiles deployed there, the report said.
Acquiring advance knowledge of an imminent Russian nuclear attack could be difficult, the official acknowledged. That’s because Moscow has some two dozen weapons systems that can deliver both conventional and nuclear warheads, he added.
The current assessment by Western intelligence is that Russia will “never use a strategic nuclear weapon” over concerns of provoking an all-out nuclear war with NATO, the source said. “What they’ll do is use a short-range weapon. They have warheads that we call micro-nukes,” he said, adding that “it’s still a big bomb.”
“We are not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov reiterated last week, referring journalists to the country’s military doctrine.
This doctrine only allows the use of nuclear arms if such weapons, or other types of weapons of mass destruction, are used to target Russia, or if the country is faced with an existential threat from conventional arms.